Republicans Pile On Silver (Updated)

As expected, Republicans are – rather gleefully, it must be said – piling on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in the wake of his arrest on corruption charges this morning, saying he must relinquish his leadership post for the good of the chamber, his constituents and the entire state of New York.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, who remained fairly quiet when other Republicans were calling for Silver’s head during the sexual harassment scandal involving former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, now says it’s “imperative” that the speaker step down “immediately,” adding:

“His resignation as Speaker is in the best interest of the Assembly, of the State, and the best way for us to conduct the business that we are elected to do. We cannot afford this distraction with the important business before the Assembly and the people of New York State.”

It’s not clear to me why Kolb has experienced this change of heart. His previous position was that it wasn’t his place to meddle in the business of the Democratic conference, since Silver didn’t tell him how to run his conference (and he has had his share of detractors).

“The ultimate goal is saying ‘whose scandal is this?’ it’s not ours,” Kolb said back in 2013. “So let’s look and hold the people accountable for whose scandal it is.

Than again, the sexual harassment mess – and secret payouts to keep Lopez’s accusers and former aides quiet – was an internal problem with the Democratic conference, where this is a much bigger issue – corruption, which has claimed victims on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of the Legislature.

And, of course, Silver has been arrested and formally charged by the feds, which elevates this situation to a whole new level.

UPDATE: Speaking to reporters earlier today, Kolb said he is “not a person in this business that does personal attacks – never have, never will.”

“Having said that, when it comes to public policy, I think at this point in time when there’s actually an arrest, there’s a clear serious matter to take up,” the assemblyman continued. “And, you know, also the justice system is working on the other things the speaker was dealing with the Vito Lopez case. But I think this certainly raised to the level that he would be servely harmed, I think, by continuing on. I think he should resign as speaker. He does not have to resign as a member unless he’s convicted of a felony.”

One of Kolb’s critics, Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, also called for Silver to resign (not the first time she has done so). She called the speaker “a disgrace to the people of New York and a blemish on all those who serve the public in this state. It is time to put the Silver era behind us once and for all.” Tenney also said the governor should get involved here and pressure Silver, a fellow Democrat, to depart.

“The politics of New York have for too long been three men in a room. The culture of corruption is pervasive as pay-offs, backroom deals, and cronyism are business as usual in Albany. This is unacceptable. Silver’s arrest is simply the latest indicator we need substantial reform in Albany,” the assemblywoman said.

“We should immediately move to clean up Albany. Career politician syndrome enabled this ignominious day in the history of New York. We need to institute real term limits, cut legislative pay and benefits, slash the length of the session, and restore the faith of the people in their public officials.”

Another female member of the Assembly GOP conference, Staten Island’s Nicole Malliotakis, who briefly eyed a potential run for the seat of disgraced former Rep. Michael Grimm, but stepped aside for the party favorite, DA Dan Donovan, also is calling for Silver to resign – and it’s not the first time for her, either.

“It is beyond time for Sheldon Silver to step down as Speaker of the Assembly,” the assemblywoman said. “The demands of running the chamber and serving the taxpayers cannot be compromised by charges of corruption and a judicial proceeding of this magnitude. There is no doubt that New Yorkers desperately need and deserve new leadership of ‘the People’s House’.”

State GOP spokesman David Laska issued a statement calling for Silver’s immediate resignation, calling this another “sad day for New York,” and insisting that it should not serve as a distraction from “the important business of growing our economy and creating jobs.”

Onondaga County GOP Chairman Tom Dadey also got in on the fun, calling the situation with Silver “deeply troubling” and saying the Democratic Assembly members from Central New York should join him in demanding that the speaker step down.

“On their own, these allegations will only grow the distrust New Yorkers now feel towards Albany,” Dadey said. “We need more transparency and disclosure, stronger ethics laws, term limits and we need to eliminate the bad apples. I am hopeful that our local Assembly delegation, including Assembly members (Bill) Magnarelli, (Sam) Roberts and (Al) Stirpe will show true leadership and call for the Speaker’s ouster.”

So far, the Democrats haven’t said very much. Still no statement from the governor, for example. Members of Silver’s conference are discussing this matter behind closed doors and will be issuing a joint statement soon, I’m told.

A source who has spoken to some of the members mentioned as potential Silver successors, should it come to that, said everyone is keeping their powder dry for now. Timing is everything here. A wannabe speaker who pulls the trigger on his or her effort to oust the wounded leader too soon, only to see him survive this scandal as he has survived other (albeit smaller) scandals before, would no doubt be wandering the wilderness for many years.

That said, a wannabe Silver successor who doesn’t start lining up his or her supporters and make a move in a timely fashion could risk missing the opportunity to become one of the most powerful people in the state.

Skelos Won’t Weigh In On Whether Silver Should Resign

As Republicans across the state call for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to step down, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is not weighing in on the Manhattan Democrat’s future.

“I think that the Assembly has to make that decision,” Skelos said this morning. “He’s their leader, they’ll have to make that decision themselves.”

Elsewhere, Republicans across the state, including the GOP committee and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, are calling on Silver to stop down from thye post he’s held since 1994.

Skelos, a Nassau County Republican, could have some leverage moving forward in the budget process now that Silver faces a five-count indictment on fraud and corruption charges.

Skelos, along with Silver and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, are the “three men in a room” for the closed-door high-level budget negotiations.

“I’m sure the speaker’s hoping to be acquitted,” Skelos said. “It is what it is. The U.S. attorney’s made a decision and now we’ll go through the process.”

Skelos added he was “surprised” by the indictment of Silver by the U.S. attorney’s office.

“But government moves forward, we’ll work on the budget,” Skelos said.

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Silver Charged On Five Counts

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was charged on Thursday with five counts of fraud and corruption, with federal investigators accusing the longtime lawmaker of using his official position to reap millions of dollars in outside income and kickbacks.

Charges against Silver focus on the myriad ties he has to both two lucrative industries that have business before the state: Real estate and health care, as well as intersect with his work as a personal injury attorney, where he has been “of counsel.”

At the same time, a real-estate developer is pointed to who has contributed $200,000 to Silver and a political action committee under his control.

Silver, the speaker since 1994, turned himself into federal law enforcement this morning.

In a statement, Silver’s attorneys, Joel Cohen and Steven Molo, said the speaker would be vindicated.

“We’re disappointed that the prosecutors have chosen to proceed with these meritless criminal charges,” the attorneys said. “That said, Mr. Silver looks forward to responding to them — in court — and ultimately his full exoneration.”

The 35-page complaint alleges Silver received bribes and kickbacks through a law firm, which was masked as legitimate income.

The complaint states Silver received millions of dollars in non-public income “as a direct result of his corrupt use of his official position to obtain attorney referral fees for himself.”

Silver, since late 2002, has received more than $5 million from the two firms, with approximately $700,000 accounting for bribes and kickbacks.

Investigators allege Silver obtained referrals in asbestos cases from a doctor, and used his position as leader of the Assembly to funnel a half-million dollars in state funds to the doctor’s research as well as his family.

“There is probably cause to believe that Silver obtained approximately $4 million in payments characterized as referral fees solely through the corrupt use of his official position,” the indictment states.

US v Sheldon Silver Complaint by Nick Reisman

Aubry: Conference Remains ‘Supportive’ Of Silver

As Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver faces potential criminal charges, one of his top deputies in the chamber says the large Democratic majority will stick by the Manhattan Democrat.

Assemblyman Jeff Aubry told reporters this morning the conference — which accounts for 106 out of the 150 members in the Assembly — remained “supportive” of Silver.

“We are supportive of our speaker as always,” Aubry said. “We have a task to do in front of us — we have a budget to consider.”

Silver’s indictment has thrown a wrench into a regularly scheduled legislative session day in Albany.

Assembly Democrats plan to conference at 10:30 this morning, Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle said.

A press availability will be held after then. One source said that the session for the Assembly today would be cancelled.

Aubry, a Queens Democrat, noted that only a few weeks ago Democrats in the conference had re-elected Silver to another term as speaker, a post he’s held since 1994.

At the same time, Aubry pointed to Mel Miller, a predecessor of Silver’s in the speaker’s chair, who was indicted for corruption, but stay on as the top lawmaker in the Assembly despite the charges (he was later convicted and removed from office).

“They elected him as speaker a couple of weeks ago,” Aubry said. “I don’t see anything that changes that at the moment unless this goes in a negative way for him.”

Other top Assembly Democrats were less enthusiastic.

“I have no reaction,” said Assemblyman Keith Wright when reached by phone.

Successors Few And Far Between For Silver

By default or by design, there are few successors in the Democratic conference to take the helm from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who reportedly faces a pending arrest on corruption charges.

Silver has ruled the chamber with basically unquestioned authority since 1994, save for a 2000 leadership coup brought by Assemblyman Michael Bragman of the Syracuse area.

In the well documented challenge to his post, Silver punished the instigators but also learned to be a better leader of the conference and listen to individual concerns raised by members.

At the same time, Silver gently could encourage fast-raising stars in his conference to seek higher office, be it the state Senate or Congress — essentially removing those who could one day take over.

To be sure, the rumblings are yet to even begin about who would replace the longtime speaker and an indictment would not automatically remove him from office.

Silver, too, has survived previous headaches in past, including a sexual harassment scandal that involved his office securing more than $100,000 in settlement funds to women who accused then-Assemblyman Vito Lopez of abusive behavior.

Silver’s work at his law firm and his outside income has long come under scrutiny, and while he’s been criticized at times for a symbol of Albany dysfunction, his members have often rallied around him.

Nevertheless, there are enough rank-and-file members in the chamber who could succeed Silver, at least on a temporary basis.

Perhaps the most natural successor could be Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, a Rochester-area Democrat who was elevated to the second-ranking post in 2013.

Morelle is an upstater and is tight with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which could count against him, even in the long run.

Downstate, there are more options, including some longtime lieutenants of the speaker who could easily assume the role for the time being as something of a caretaker.

That includes Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chairman Denny Farrell, Assemblyman Keith Wright (a former state Democratic committee co-chair who has close ties with Cuomo) and Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol.

Of the more ambitions members, there’s Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie, who could be a more long-term replacement for Silver.

In the long run, it’s more likely that the 100-plus member Democratic conference — which is predominantly composed of downstate lawmakers — will push for the first female speaker or a member of the black and Latino caucus (It’s chairman, Assemblyman Karim Camara, a Brooklyn Democrat, is joining the Cuomo administration to work on faith-based programs).

The First Democratic Call For Silver To Resign

It comes not from a member of the speaker’s Democratic conference, but a state senator, Brad Hoylman of Manhattan.

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.

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