Silver Turns Himself In

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver turned himself in to federal authorities and is in FBI custody, sources said.

Silver turned himself in to authorities at 8 a.m. this morning.

It is not clear what charges Silver faces.

The Manhattan Democrat has led the chamber since 1994.

But the U.S. attorney’s office has been investigating Silver’s income from a law firm that has done business before the state when it comes to the real estate industry.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office took custody of records generated by the Moreland Commission To Investigate Public Corruption after it was shut down by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year.

Looking Back at Mel Miller, the Last Speaker Indicted (& Convicted) of Wrongdoing

As we await more details in the case of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver – according to reports, he is now in FBI custody – it might be instructive to take a look back at the history of those who have found themselves in similar situations.

The last speaker who was indicted – and subsequently found guilty – of wrongdoing was former Assemblyman Mel Miller, a Brooklyn Democrat.

Miller’s conviction in December 1991 on federal fraud charges forced his immediate loss of both his Assembly seat and his leadership post. Miller, who was once one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers, was eventually cleared by a federal appeals court in 1993, but by then, his career in elected office was long over, though he stayed involved in politics by becoming a lobbyist.

Miller and top aide, Jay Adolf, were orginally charged in 1990 with committing fraud in conntection with the buying and selling of cooperative apartments between 1984 and 1986 when they were partners in the law firm of Adolf & Miller.

While representing clients who were buying apartments, according to the feds, Miller and Adolf secretly bought some of the apartments for themselves and then sold the units at a profit of $300,000 while also collecting $238,000 in legal fees.

Both men insisted they had done noting wrong, and Miller’s attorney said his client was among “a hunted class of well-known politicians.” (Sound familiar?) At the time, Senate Minority Leader Manfred Ohrenstein, a Manhattan Democrat, was awaiting trial on state charges that he misused public money by placing “no show” workers on his payroll.

(UPDATE):A veteran of NY politics notes I neglected to point out that the most significant charges against Ohrenstein, accusing him of assigning legislative workers to full-time duty on Senate campaigns in 1986, were thrown out in 1990 by the Court of Appeals. And the remaining charges, which involved the award of no-show jobs to political allies, were dropped by then Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau. The former senator was subsequently partially reimbursed by the state (a la former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno) for his legal bills to the tune of $1.3 million.

Miller, who was first elected in 1970 by voters in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, was the third of the last four Assembly speakers to be indicted but the first to be convicted. He was also the 10th state lawmaker to be indicted since 1987. (The list is considerably longer now, I believe up to 33 and counting, with the trial of former Sen. Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat, underway and former Senate Majority Leader John Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat, awaiting his day in court).

In January 1993, an appeals court threw out the convictions of both Miller and Adolf, ruling that a financial group the two represented had no contractual rights to the profits in question, so the investors could not have been defrauded.

In between his indictment and his conviction, Miller held on to the speaker’s office. And Silver could indeed try to do the same, but there will no doubt be calls for him to relinquish that post if and when he is arrested and charged.

Those calls will no doubt start with the Republicans, who have used Silver as a foil in recent years – especially since his role in the secret settlement of sexual harassment charges lodged against former Brooklyn Democratic Assemblyman Vito Lopez. (That case is still playing out in court, and Silver has been named in a lawsuit brought by two former Looez aides who claim they were harassed by their ex-boss).

But Silver is elected by his fellow Democratic Assembly members, and only they can decide if they want to keep him as their leader. As I mentioned earlier today, there is no clear successor to Silver, though several members have been mentioned in the past. (I forgot to add Assemblyman Jeff Aubry, a Queens Democrat, to that list, though his health – he suffered a heart attack in 2002 – could be a concern to some of his colleagues; being the speaker is a high stress job).

Silver was easily re-elected to another two-year term as speaker earlier this month, even as reports of the US attorney’s investigation into his outside income hung over his head. He had just a few detractors – freshman Assemblyman Charles Barron, a freshman from Brooklyn who is basically a professional detractor, and Assemblyman Mickey Kearns, a WNY Democrat who been at odds with Silver pretty much since before he arrived in Albany.

Another big question is what Gov. Andrew Cuomo will do here. He has studiously avoided getting involved in Assembly Democratic politics, though there has always beens speculation that he would prefer to see someone other than Silver in the speaker’s office. The governor doesn’t have a vote in the speaker election, but he does have a BIG bully pulpit.

Miller’s conviction caused a headache for Cuomo’s father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo. It’s unlikely the current governor Cuomo would sit by and let chaos rule in the Assembly chamber, potentially derailing – at least temporarily – his reform agenda in Albany. After all, as my friend and colleague at Capital NY Jimmy Vielkind likes to say, chaos is decidedly not Cuomonian.

Silver’s ’08 Opponent: ‘Sad Day for NY’

So far, there hasn’t been a lot in the way of reaction from lawmakers in Albany. (It’s pretty early yet, and the NYT story broke after midnight).

But Democratic District Leader Paul Newell, one of two Democrats who mounted long-shot and unsuccessful primary challenges to Silver in 2008 – the speaker’s first Democratic primary contest in over two decades – was the first to release a statement.

Newell, who represents the 65th AD (Silver’s district), said if the report of the speaker’s imminent arrest is true, then it is a “sad day for Lower Manhattan, and a sad day for New York.”

“I can’t speak to the specific charges against the Speaker,” Newell added. “But I can say that outside income for legislators is a certain recipe for corruption. Speaker Silver and Majority Leader Skelos should have banned it long ago.”

“The 65th Assembly District, and all New Yorkers, deserve better.”

If Silver is lead away in cuffs today, it will definitely strengthen the position of Gov. Andrew Cuomo is many ways – not the least of which is his push for a cap on outside income by state lawmakers and more transparency in the reporting of what they earn while moonlighting.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City and Suffolk County with no public schedule. Both the Senate and Assembly are scheduled to be in session late this morning.

Expect whatever was to take place today to be overshadowed by the possible arrest on corruption charges of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, arguably the second most powerful Democrat in New York.

And vying for “most powerful – or dangerous? – man in NY” status is US Attorney Preet Bharara (now known to most in political circles simply as “Preet”), who is bringing the case against Silver.

Meanwhile, members of Cuomo’s cabinet – starting with the lieutenant governor – are going to start hitting the road to spread the word about his 2015 Opportunity Agenda, which the governor unveiled yesterday.

At 8 a.m., NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina discusses efforts to improve schools while speaking to members of The Association for a Better New York at part of the association’s breakfast series; Metropolitan West Ballroom, Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, 811 Seventh Ave., Manhattan.

At 9:15 a.m., NARAL Pro-Choice New York President Andrea Miller, the president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Nancy Northup, NYC Council members, musicians from the punk band Betty and other women’s rights advocates mark the 42nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case Roe v. Wade, issued Monday, Jan. 22, 1973; steps, City Hall, Manhattan.

At 10 a.m., NYC Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal and animal advocates rally in support of making Meatless Monday an official day in New York City, City Hall steps, Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., Queens Borough President Melinda Katz delivers her first state of the borough address, Colden Auditorium, Queens College, Kissena Boulevard and Horace Harding Expressway, Queens.

At 10:30 a.m., LG Kathy Hochul outlines Cuomo’s Opportunity Agenda, Crandall Library, 251 Glen St., Glens Falls.

At noon, NYC Councilman Corey Johnson and tenants advocates gather to unveil legislation calling upon the mayor to reform the process for calculating rent increases at the Rent Guidelines Board, City Hall steps, Manhattan.

At 12:30 p.m., NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito holds a press conference prior to the 1 p.m. pre-stated Council meeting, Red Room, City Hall, Manhattan.

At 2 p.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a public hearing and signs Intro 489-B (in relation to notices of violation returnable to the environmental control board), Blue Room, City Hall, Manhattan.

At 3:15 p.m., Hochul tours the ORDA Facility, Olympic Center, 2634 Main St., Lake Placid.

Headlines (other than the Silver bombshell)…

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a $142 billion state budget that would increase overall spending by 2.8 percent to pay for new education spending, infrastructure projects and provide tax relief to homeowners.

The budget directs $1.4 billion to hospital construction, increase school aid by $1 billion and hold $850 million of a one-time cash windfall in reserve – a move that will likely spark months of jockeying with lawmakers and interest groups around the state.

As expected, the governor proposed a slew of education reforms, tying their approval by the Legislature to a significant bump in state aid. If his plan is passed, schools will get an extra $1.1 billion (an almost 5 percent increase); if not, they’ll get just $377 million.

Cuomo singled out Buffalo Public Schools as an example of “a failing district for many, many years” in his State of the State address, as he laid out a series of aggressive urban education reform measures. Those measures include making it easier for outsiders to take over long-struggling school districts and dismantling local school district authority.

The Cuomo administration is holding off on releasing the school aid runs – a long-standing tradition that lets lawmakers and school officials know what each district would receive under the governor’s budget – until after lawmakers either approve his reform plan or reject it.

The NYT editorial board says the education reforms Cuomo is seeking make “good” sense “on the whole,” but cautions: “In the long run, however, the most important thing he can do to help the system and the students it is meant to serve is to make sure that all districts — not just the wealthier ones — receive the money they need.”

NYC and state lawmakers, along with at least one union leader, had mixed reactions to the proposals for charter schools that Cuomo laid out as part of his education reform plan.

Cuomo laid out an ambitious social agenda that focuses on problems not so easily solved with cash: the erosion of confidence in the criminal justice system, public schools and teachers that he said were failing students, and a creeping sense that economic mobility is not what it once was.

More >

Report: Speaker Silver to be Arrested on Corruption Charges

The New York Times reports that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is expected to be arrested on corruption charges today in connection with an investigation into his outside income.

The speaker’s attorney, Joel Cohen, declined to comment to the NYT. There has been no word so far from Silver’s press office. The Assembly is scheduled to be in session late this morning. The Democrats are expected to conference behind closed doors at 10 a.m.

The exact charges that the speaker will face remain unclear, though federal investigators have been looking into his work with Goldberg & Iryami, a Manhattan firm that specializes in challenging real estate assessments.

The speaker didn’t report the firm on his state financial disclosure form, citing only his role as “of counsel” to the personal-injury law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg.

If this report is true, it will throw the 2015 legislative session, which just got underway with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s delivery of his State of the State/budget address yesterday, into chaos. There is no clear successor to Silver, who was just re-elected to a second two-year term as speaker and is the longest-serving legislative leader in Albany.

It’s possible the Assembly Democrats will elect a caretaker speaker to get them through this session – someone like Codes Committee Chairman Joe Lentol, of Brooklyn, or Ways and Means Committee Chairman Denny Farrell Jr., of Manhattan – both veteran members of the chamber (and close Silver allies).

There will likely be a significant battle for the speakership, should the position indeed become vacant. Though Silver has had his share of problems – from the spate of sexual harassment scandals to the recent NYT reports on the US attorney’s probe into his unreported work for a small Manhattan law firm – no lawmakers have been seriously trying to put together a coalition of support to oust him.

Members mentioned in the past as potential Silver replacements include:

- Assemblyman Keith Wright, the Housing Committee chairman, current Manhattan Democratic chair and former NYS Democratic chair. (He’s also interested in moving on, and has opened an exploratory committee for a potential 2016 run for the seat veteran Harlem Rep. Charlie Rangel says he’ll vacate at the end of this two-year term).

- Assemblyman Carl Heastie, the Bronx Democratic chairman.

- Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, of Rochester. (This is unlikely since an upstater would have a tough time getting elected as head of the downstate-domionated conference, and Morelle is also close to Cuomo, which could be perceived as a detriment by his colleagues).

Silver was in Albany yesterday and sat on the stage in the Empire State Convention Center for Cuomo’s big speech.

He was taciturn as ever, showing absolutely no sign of the potential trouble ahead. He even spoke with reporters, questioning the legality of the two-tiered legislative compensation system that the governor floated in his 2015 Opportunity Agenda.

Dinolfo To Announce Run For Monroe County Executive Thursday

It’s been called the worst kept secret in Monroe County politics.  On Thursday it’s expected Cheryl Dinolfo will finally make it official and announce she’s running for County Executive.

The Monroe County Clerk has long been a rumored candidate for the office.  With most of her GOP rivals dropping out in recent weeks, Dinolfo’s candidacy has been considered a foregone conclusion.

Dinolfo is looking to follow in the current County Executive’s footsteps.  Maggie Brooks, who faces term limits, used her time in the Monroe County Clerk’s office as springboard to run for County Executive in 2003.

The path to success through the clerk’s office is not limed to Brooks or the Republican Party.  Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul spent nearly eight years in the Erie County Clerk’s Office, four running it, before winning a special Congressional Election in 2011.

Both Brooks and Hochul have learned the post not only provides valuable experience in dealing with state and federal regulations, it can also offer a political soap box.  Dinolfo pushed back against former Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants in 2007.  Six years later she spoke out against attempts to make gun permit records public.

Monroe County Republican Party Chairman Bill Reilich has called a press conference for Thursday at noon.  The timing of the announcement would allow Dinolfo to attend a major GOP fundraising event on Saturday Night as the “heir apparent” to Brooks.

While the GOP hopes declaring its candidate early will help them retain control of a seat they’ve held since 1992, the list of potential Democrats candidates is still pretty long.  New Monroe County Democratic Party Chairman Dave Garretson is reportedly considering County Legislature Minority Leader Carrie Andrews, Irondequoit Town Supervisor Adam Bello, former County Legislator Vincent Esposito, former Brighton Town Supervisor Sandra Frankel, and former Monroe County District Attorney Mike Green.

Former State Senator Ted O’Brien said Wednesday night he is not a candidate but has urged Garretson to take his time.

“There’s no rush and there’s a long list of qualified candidates. We have plenty of time between now and our nominating convention in May,” O’Brien said.

School Aid Runs Will Have To Wait For A Budget Deal

With a significant chunk of the $1.1 billion increase in education funding tied to reform measures proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state will not release estimates of how much schools would receive in the coming fiscal year.

It’s no small thing for school districts, who have to have a budget to put before voters in May. The budget isn’t due to be passed until March 31, the end of the state’s fiscal year.

Education spending is a perennial fight at the Capitol and the break down of who gets how much is a closely scrutinized facet of budget day.

But Cuomo is attaching a number of strings to his 4.8 percent hike in funding: A new, more stringent teacher evaluation law, reforming teacher tenure and making the state’s cap on property taxes a permanent facet.

Cuomo already has significant sway over the budget process writ large, and yoking his policy proposals to funding is not a novel concept for the governor, who is beginning his second term.

Making the 2011 tax cap permanent — which limits levy increases at 2 percent or the rate of inflation — is a proposal that has business groups and budget hawks cheering.

Still, ending the cap’s sunset date from 2016 to forever raises questions about its ultimate linkage to rent control regulations for New York City, the latter of which are due to expire in June of this year.

The 2011 agreement on the cap tied both the cap and rent control together.

Cuomo also wants to increase the number of charter schools allowed under the statewide cap from 460 to 560 as well as create new teacher training programs.

Cuomo today pegged his education plan as one that combats income inequality.

“It is now the great discriminator. The truth is we have two systems: We have one for rich and one for the poor,” Cuomo said. “And the greatest symbol of disparity is our failing schools.”

Extras

Get all the reactions you could possible want to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s big speech today here.

The Cuomo administration is breaking a long-standing tradition by refusing to release school aid runs until the Legislature acts on the governor’s education reform agenda, which is tied to education aid.

Tom Precious: “Perhaps showing the signs of a fifth year in office, many of the Cuomo proposals are either old or re-shaped from previous years.”

To wit: Many of Cuomo’s government reform proposals aren’t new.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said Cuomo’s talk today about the unity of the New York “family” is hard to square with his continued push to make the state’s communities compete for money.

Cuomo says he wants to make the property tax cap permanent, but EJ McMahon notes that wasn’t included in the budget documents posted online late today.

The governor wants to slap a new tax averaging less than $25 on health insurance premiums to help pay the cost of running the state’s health insurance exchange.

The WFP for the first time released a video response to the governor’s State of the State/budget address, laying out a “bolder agenda” to put working families first.

Chris Smith says the governor has demonstrated that he very much wants to remain part of the “national conversation,” even if he doesn’t get the chance to run for president in 2016.

Sen. Liz Krueger promoted her proposal to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, arguing that the bill will provoke invaluable discussion – though it stands little chance of passing in the GOP-dominated Senate.

Neither DREAM Act supporters nor the Senate Republicans are happy that Cuomo wants to tie the issue passage of an education investment tax credit – but for different reasons.

VP Joe Biden says there’s a “chance” he’ll challenge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic party’s presidential nominee in 2016.

Clinton addressed a crowd of nearly 1,800 guests at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the local convention center.

Just like everyone else, Chelsea Clinton is “waiting too” to see what her mother decides about 2016, adding: “It’s really sweet how my mom is just so clearly happy being a grandma.”

David Denenberg, a Democrat who ran for State Senate last year before dropping out over accusations he stole millions from a former legal client, entered a guilty plea today.

“The website for (Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Party) seems not to have changed since November, at least in verb tense.”

NYC Councilman Mark Levine introduced a bill that would require the city to keep beaches and pools open until the first day of school, and on weekends through the end of September.

Ex-US Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, quit the Bloomberg Philanthropies board due to its plans to significantly increase investments in its “Beyond Coal” initiative.

Freshman Rep. Lee Zeldin and his replacement in the state Senate, Tom Crocci, will co-headline a Feb. 5 fundraiser for the Suffolk County GOP.

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and one of her political consultants are the subjects of a city ethics probe.

A DCCC poll of NY-11 found GOP candidate and Staten Island DA Dan Donovan with a comfortable leader over his potential challenger, Assemblyman Michael Cusick.

Donovan said he would oppose any state law that attempts to overrule or alter grand jury decisions.

The remains of Larry and Jane Glazer and portions of their aircraft have been recovered from the depths of the Caribbean Sea near Jamaica.

OMCE likes Cuomo call for a legislative/executive pay commission, but notes such a panel could also look at salaries of thousands of non-union state employees in management/confidential state jobs.

And now for something completely different…this.

Skelos: Don’t ‘Tinker’ With Grand Jury Process

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos warned against changes to the state’s criminal justice system the would expand transparency around grand jury decisions when “no bill” is returned in cases involving police-related killings.

“To me, i don’t believe you overly tinker with the grand jury system as it exists right now,” Skelos, a Long Island Republican, told reporters after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget and State of the State presentation today. “I think the grand jury system the way it is right now functions very well.”

Cuomo’s seven-point criminal justice reform proposal is winning favorable ratings from both district attorneys and hip hop mogul Shawn “Jay Z” Carter.

As unveiled today, the plan would enable district attorneys to issue a grand jury report or letter of fact if no indictment on a police fatality to explain the proceedings.

An appointed monitor would be empowered to consider whether a special prosecutor is needed in certain cases as well.

The governor backs more funding for replacement vests for police as well as bullet-proof glass for police cars.

Some of the governor’s proposals can be implemented administratively, but the more complicated grand jury measures will have to go through the Republican-led Senate as well as the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

Senate Republicans have indicated they will hold a series of hearings on criminal justice issues, with a focus on whether elected officials play a role in undermining police efforts.

The hearings, in part, seemed aimed at knocking New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who made no secret of his own efforts to flip the Senate to full Democratic control last year.

Silver Questions Legality Of Two-Tiered Pay Hike

It’s unlikely that a two-tiered system of pay for state lawmakers who earn outside income and those who don’t is constitutional, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told reporters.

Silver was reacting to a Cuomo plan that would create a commission led by appointees of the governor, the Assembly and Senate that would meet every four years to consider salaries of lawmakers, cabinet members and statewide elected officials.

Cuomo’s plan, in addition to being tied to additional disclosure reforms of outside income and activities, would also create a structure in which moonlighting state lawmakers would earn less than those who have one source of income.

Silver, reportedly under federal investigation for outside income he’s received from a law firm that he previously hadn’t disclosed, questioned whether Cuomo’s plan passes constitutional muster.

“We’ll have to examine the details of it,” Silver said of the pay proposal, “but I’m not sure the constitution provides for different pay levels for members of the Legislature. It clearly requires members receive the same pay.”

The state’s constitution does require that “each member of the legislature shall receive for his or her services a like annual salary, to be fixed by law.”

Lawmakers earn a base $79,500 that was last raised in 1999. Still, many state lawmakers earn more than that base pay through legislative stipends, or “lulus.”