Speaker Silver will live through this crisis too
The wolves are circling Assembly Speaker Sheldon (Shelly) Silver. The Daily News, the New York Post and many others want his scalp. What would you do if you were Silver? Would you get out? The wolves are nipping at his heels because he helped to protect former Brooklyn Assembly Member Vito Lopez after Lopez was accused of sexually harassing staff members. The stories are all over the place. Granted, he was certainly a jerk, but almost no one believes Lopez actually broke the law. It is important to remember that Lopez was the Brooklyn Democratic leader and held tremendous power. If you wanted to be a judge, you had to go see Lopez. If you wanted to run for statewide office, you had to go see Lopez. When it came to protecting Lopez, Shelly went the extra mile and agreed to a payout or legal pay off to get Lopez out of trouble. This payout (or off) came from the taxpayers’ coffers (you and I paid for it) and for that, there was hell to pay. After all, both Shelly and Lopez had millions of dollars in their campaign accounts they could have used to take care of the problem.
Once the news broke that the Assembly had used taxpayer money to protect the errant Lopez, who subsequently resigned his seat, there was hell to pay. Silver is an incredibly powerful and shrewd player. If Andrew Cuomo wants to get his program through the Legislature, he really can’t afford to alienate Silver who has been a working partner in helping Cuomo to pass his top bills. The reason why Silver stays the speaker is that his troops respect and even love him. When things get frantic, it is Shelly’s job to take the heat. He keeps a low profile but he is a superb strategist and as Kenny Rogers has said so many times, “He knows when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.” The press has tried hard to dredge up every possible attack strategy and they’ve all fizzled out like a match in the rain. Silver’s lack of popularity with the press and even the general public is not the point. The only thing that will force the 69-year-old speaker to retire is a revolution within his Assembly Democratic conference.
A revolution will only happen when it gets too hot for the various members whose constituents get angry with their members for not making a change. Quite a few years ago, the number-two man in the Assembly, Michael Bragman, decided to foment a revolution. It is telling that the man’s name proved to be his undoing. He literally bragged that he had the votes. Shelly’s backers in the unions as well as all those who had good relations with the speaker brought in the heavy artillery and Bragman’s majority went south. Bragman was stripped of his office and, along with some of his collaborators, banished to legislative hell. Shelly has had smooth sailing since that time.
As for Governor Cuomo, he is keeping his powder dry. He has assured his constituents that he intends to clean up Albany yet he’ll get nothing done if he goes after Shelly and Shelly’s conference stays with him. So the governor issues a minor warning to politicians to stay honest. Despite his frequent promises to set up Moreland Act Commissions to investigate the political players, he hasn’t done so. So far, no one is holding the governor responsible for refusing to fight with Shelly or his people and my bet is that they won’t. In fact, recent polls have shown the governor’s popularity on the rise.
Shelly Silver has apologized for using taxpayer money to help out the disgraced Lopez and no one seems to think he has to do anything else. Once again, Shelly has lived through a crisis.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 5/28/13