The arrest of State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver appears to have Albany in a state of distress. A criminal complaint claiming Silver amassed millions of dollars in bribes is bad news for a legislature so plagued by corruption that a commission was created—and then disbanded—to weed out the biggest offenders. And now that the top dog's been taken down, well, people are a little scared.
Silver is arguably the most powerful Democrat in New York, and the Times notes that he wielded much of his influence over legislation through back-room dealings with the governor and senate leaders. He was also one of Mayor de Blasio's only allies in Albany, helping him stand his ground against Cuomo when it came to charter schools and immigration reform.
But he was also, allegedly, a crook, and according to U.S. Attorney Preet Bhahara, had his hands in two shady deals cut with law firms, real estate developers and a lung cancer doctor that netted him about $4 million in bogus "referral fees." Note that even with all this stashed money, Silver appears to be a rampant cheapskate, staying in budget hotels to pocket per diem cash and even going so far as to travel from NYC to DC to Albany—on the taxpayer's dime—to rack up frequent flier miles.
Penny-pinching aside, Silver was long considered an untouchable, if corrupt force at the State Capitol. Now, elected officials on both sides of the aisle and the Times editorial board have called for him to resign, and even Governor Cuomo called his arrest "a bad reflection on government," though he stopped short of saying Silver should step down.
It's unclear who will replace Silver, if he does resign. The Post offered a list of potential candidates today, including Brooklyn Assemblyman Joseph Lentol and Manhattan Democratic Party Chairman Keith Wright; Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle and Bronx Democratic leader Carl Heastie were also named as possible replacements.
Silver, who is currently out on $200k bail, pleaded not guilty, and it's too soon to tell how this will shake out for him. But if he can be undone, it seems like it's only a matter of time until the rest of Albany's most unscrupulous tumble after him. "The show-me-the-money culture of Albany has been perpetuated and promoted at the very top of the political food chain," Bhahara said at a news conference announcing Silver's arrest yesterday. "We will keep at it, because the men and woman of the FBI and of my office still subscribe to the quaint view that no one is above the law, no matter who you are, or who know, or how much money you have. And so our unfinished fight against public corruption continues. You should stay tuned."