Albany, NY (WBEN) Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been on the hot seat for what some call the mishandling of the Vito Lopez sexual harassment matter. But most Albany observers say Silver is not in any danger of being ousted .
"Unless another shoe falls, Sheldon Silver will remain speaker," says GOP Political Analyst Carl Calabrese, a former Deputy Erie County Executive, who adds that the chances of Silver's ouster are "Slim and none, and none just left town."
While he is trying to marshal other breakaway Democrats to form their own conference , so far, South Buffalo's Mickey Kearns (pictured R) is the only lawmaker to openly call for Silver's resignation, while quitting the Democratic conference last week.
"That's no surprise," says Ken Lovett of the New York Daily News. "He ran against Silver's leadership when he won election, and voted against Silver's leadership."
It's also no surprise no one has challenged Silver because of the power he holds, Lovett says.
If Kearns is able to group together enough like-minded Democrats, they could take a cue from disenchanted Democrats in the NYS Senate and form their own independent conference . If there are enough of them to jeopardize the party's majority in the Assembly such a group could force a power sharing agreement similar to one that has ocurred in the Senate.
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Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Assembly by 65 members, and a new conference would have to get at least 33 members in order to force any sort of change . The math - and Silver's power - however make that unlikely, Lovett says.
"He controls what legislation makes it to the floor. He controls the campaign money that flows from the party to individual campaigns, what office and what parking space you get, so if you try to challenge him publicly, you better make sure you've got him," notes Lovett.
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Assemblyman Mickey Kearns
"I do expect some sort of retribution," says Kearns, who adds that he doesn't see Silver stepping down. "He's not going to. When you are at that height of power, you're not going to (resign)," Kearns says.
Earlier this month, the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics investigated accusations against Lopez and a settlement Silver signed off on that that ended the first of two sets of claims in 2012. It found a "substantial basis" of evidence that Lopez violated Public Officer's Law by his touching, intimidating and coercing women staffers, but no basis for a charge against Silver, who has admitted that the settlement was wrong and won't be repeated. READ THE ETHICS REPORT HERE
.While Silver's stature is secure for now, behind the scenes, Lovett says there are some Democrats who privately worry about how tarnish on the Silver name will become a campaign issue
“There’s unrest,” said one Assembly Democrat, quoted by Lovett in an article Monday “Everyone is still upset.” “Every editorial board, every Republican opponent, will ask the Democrats if they will vote to re-elect Shelly as speaker if they win,” a second Silver ally quoted by Lovett says.
Kearns doesn't feel that Silver will step aside, but has heard from other Democrats willing to consider forming an independent breakaway Democratic caucus.
If they have enough members to jeopardize the Democrats substantial majority in the Assembly, they could force some sort of power sharing similar to what a group of independent Democrats did in the NYS Senate this past year.
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Meanwhile Republicans Put On Pressure
Here's the text of an open letter put forth by Republican Assemblywomen, including Clarence's Jane Corwin last week, first published in the Albany Times Union, and later re-distributed by the state Republican party.
Assemblymembers Jane Corwin, Nicole Malliotakis, Annie Rabbitt and Claudia Tenney write:
The resignation of our former colleague, Assemblyman Vito Lopez, may provide some measure of relief for those who believe the propensity of sexual harassment of staff members is an isolated incident. Those who are familiar with the corrupt culture in Albany know otherwise.
The uncomfortable and appalling detail that was outlined in two separate investigations regarding the actions of Assemblyman Lopez is only the most recent in a series of inappropriate and, in some cases, criminal activity that has been overlooked, quieted, or muffled by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
The speaker has presided over as hostile a workplace as one can imagine, dating back to 1995, when he arranged to pay a staffer $85,000 in state taxpayer money to settle a civil suit against the Assembly and Assemblyman Mark Alan Siegel after sexual harassment accusations.
Then, in 2001, Silver's chief counsel, Michael Boxley, was accused of rape against yet another young female staffer. An internal report of the incident was brought to the speaker, but no action was taken. Boxley was arrested years later, in a separate incident on rape charges, and ultimately pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct.
Following Boxley's arrest, the speaker released a statement saying, "I am deeply dedicated to ensuring that every woman in this state feels safe, and have devoted much of my career to protecting the rights of victims of sexual abuse."
Yet when he had an opportunity to commission a full and independent investigation of the matter after the first complaint, Silver acted with the same lackluster effort that was displayed when negotiating the settlement following the harassment charges brought against Lopez.
Silver publicly stated that he chose not to disclose the earlier allegations of sexual harassment at the request of the victims. However, the JCOPE investigation revealed that the victims did not request confidentiality; rather, the speaker chose not to disclose the settlement in order to protect his senior member and prevent media scrutiny. Even more disturbing, the women were forced to sign confidentiality agreements that would impose a $10,000 penalty for speaking.
While the privilege of electing the speaker is afforded to the majority party, there is no vehicle provided to the minority party in Assembly rules to force a vote of removal. As female members of the Assembly, we hope that our colleagues in the Democratic Majority will call for a vote and elect a new speaker; someone untarnished by the corrupt culture of Albany and who will not tolerate abuses toward women.
We applaud Assemblyman Mickey Kearns for being the first to take this step and encourage other Democrats to follow suit. This issue is too important to be made political, and we urge our majority colleagues, both men and women, to not see red and blue, or party ideology - but to simply see right and wrong.
The writers are Republican members of the state Assembly.