Lawmakers’ reaction to Silver’s arrest split along party lines

Assembly members representing the Capital Region were sticking with party lines after Assembly Speak
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's seat is empty before session in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in Albany, N.Y
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's seat is empty before session in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in Albany, N.Y

Assembly members representing the Capital Region were sticking with party lines after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested on federal corruption charges Thursday morning.

Democrats in the state Assembly are standing behind Silver as speaker, while Republicans are calling for him to resign from his leadership post. Silver is accused of using his position to obtain $4 million in bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said the allegations against Silver are “troubling” and he has a zero-tolerance policy for public corruption, but he doesn’t believe Silver should relinquish his title.

“We’re looking at some serious allegations, but in light of the recent history of Joe Bruno, it would be unfair to act before letting the legal process play out,” he said. “I believe in my ability to serve people in my district; that is a top priority. I’m not going to let this be a distraction.”

Former state Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican from Brunswick, was acquitted on felony charges in May that he accepted $360,000 in bribes a decade ago from businessman Jared Abbruzese. Bruno served as leader of the Senate from 1994 to 2008.

The Assembly Democratic Conference had a closed-door meeting Thursday morning in Albany after Silver’s arrest, while the legislative session for the Assembly was canceled on Thursday. Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, D-Irondequoit, said he would continue to support the speaker and other members “overwhelmingly” do, too.

Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, said the Assembly should move forward and focus on priorities, like education aid and other budget initiatives, independent of the identity of the speaker.

Steck said he is confident that the Assembly will function as a body regardless of the issues surrounding Silver. If federal prosecutors prove he is guilty, Silver will “certainly be out as speaker,” Steck said.

“I have been practicing law for a very long time, and prosecutors sometimes make allegations that are not true,” he said. “If that’s not the case, then we’ll have a different outcome. I think the Assembly has always stood up on the issues, and the people in my district are more interested in the policy issues than the identity of the speaker.”

Carrie Woerner, a Democrat from Round Lake who took office this year, said she will continue to monitor the situation regarding Silver and is reserving judgment until the legal system runs its course. She said the charges against Silver could create a significant distraction as lawmakers work on the budget and other legislative issues, but stressed she is focused on serving her constituents.

“While I certainly hope that these accusations are found to be unsubstantiated, I will be at the front of the line to call for Speaker Silver’s resignation if these allegations are proven to be true,” Woerner said. “This is indeed a very challenging situation. I sincerely hope that the institution will prove itself larger than any one member, and that we will be able to move forward productively with the work that we were elected to do.”

But the area’s Republican assemblymen see things differently. Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, said he has been arguing for years that Silver should resign because of his lack of leadership. Silver, a Democrat from Manhattan who has served as speaker for 20 years, has “devastated the upstate economy,” he said.

“The news about the five-count federal indictment on federal corruption charges against Silver will be an enormous distraction and prevent him from credibly leading the Assembly, especially as the budget process kicks into overdrive in this high stakes year for New York’s economy and our citizens,” Tedisco said.

The charges against Silver came the day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address and budget presentation in Albany. Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, said the accusations against Silver would make it more difficult for the Assembly to do its job.

“At this point, he may need to step aside from his leadership position at minimum,” Lopez said. “As far as his role in the Assembly, that will hinge on whether he is guilty. It’s going to make it harder, but we still have to do a budget and address priorities. But how will that work with Silver’s integrity in question?”

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, is calling on Silver to resign immediately as speaker so the Assembly could get back to business.

“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,” Kolb said in a statement. “We cannot afford this distraction with the important business before the Assembly and the people of New York.”

Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, knocked the Assembly majority for re-electing Silver as speaker earlier this month, despite the federal investigation and a sexual harassment scandal related to former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, a Democrat from Brooklyn.

“The charges that led to Speaker Silver’s arrest [Thursday] morning are disturbing, and it would be in the best interests of the people of this state that he resign his position as Assembly speaker,” Butler said. “We have much important work to do for the people of our state, like the negotiation of the budget, and it is imperative that we have a speaker in place who can be fully focused on the work of the people.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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