Thursday, January 22, 2015

Longtime NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Surrenders to FBI

NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been an Albany fixture for 2+ decades. He was Speaker back when I was working in the legislature. And he's survived and thrived despite multiple scandals. But this is one scandal too far.

The Manhattan Democrat, who is the longest running Speaker in state history, is being charged with corruption over payments from one law firm (he is of counsel with another firm too).

I've been saying for years that the legislature should stop being a part time gig; they pay full time wages ($79,500, plus perks on position). Yet, they allow members to work elsewhere - like law firms, and can serve up conflicts of interest in no time. Eliminate the outside work, and you eliminate a major source of conflicts of interest.

Silver has stood against those reforms for years, in part because he benefited from the status quo arrangement. According to the NYT:

While it is legal for lawmakers to hold outside jobs, investigators said Mr. Silver failed to list the payments from the firm, Goldberg & Iryami, on his annual financial disclosure filings with the state.

In the past, Mr. Silver has been criticized for his outside law practice, a lucrative career that supplements the $121,000 he earns as speaker.

In 2013, Mr. Silver earned at least $650,000 in legal income, including work for the personal injury law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, according to his most recent financial disclosure filing.

But what he does to earn that income has long been a mystery in Albany, and Mr. Silver has refused to provide details about his work.

He also managed to survive threats to his speakership when there were multiple sexual harassment/sexual assault cases that his office bungled/fumbled/buried. These include the Michael Boxley matter (who was one of his top staffers), investigations into whether other Assembly members engaged in sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct, including Micah Kellner, Vito Lopez, and secret settlements to silence the scandals. Silver admits that he shouldn't have used public money to fund the Lopez settlement.

The Assembly has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements over these and other sexual harassment cases involving members and staffers. That doesn't count the boatload of money spent on legal fees.

Silver's actions in those cases should have been grounds for his caucus to send him packing, but he used divide and conquer to split the caucus from picking a replacement.

But he couldn't outrun federal prosecutor Preet Bharara. He's managed to do more to roll up corruption in Albany than Gov. Cuomo's defanged Moreland Commission. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. I suspect there's lots more to come.

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