The strange story of a plot by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to oust Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has multiple facets, all of them peculiar. It sounds wrong, or at least incomplete. But there is an aspect of it worth pursuing: After 36 years in the Assembly, the last 19 of them as the chamber’s speaker, it is time for Silver to let someone else lead the Assembly.
Not that he will, but it is time.
In politics, new blood matters. Cuomo is evidence enough of that. Whatever the deficiencies of the just-completed state budget, the state has made strides since his election in 2010, with Silver mainly going along for the ride.
But the Assembly is caught in a time warp, hardly different from the democratic wreck of a chamber described in a 2004 report as part of the nation’s most dysfunctional legislature.
Like the Senate, the Assembly has been a hotbed of corruption, most recently featuring accusations of accepting bribes against Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, a Bronx Democrat. In addition, Assemblyman Nelson Castro, another Bronx Democrat, resigned after cooperating with investigators in the investigation of Stevenson.
It would be unfair to lay all of the blame for corruption at Silver’s feet. As he noted, these aren’t people he hired; they won elections and no leader can completely control the behavior of members. But we question whether the speaker shows sufficient outrage at events such as these.
Last week, for example, he said he was “encouraging Stevenson to resign.”
Why not demand it? Why not make it abundantly clear to all other members of the Assembly that conduct such as Stevenson is accused of committing is a deal breaker? That’s different from “encouraging.”
Silver has also had his own problems, last year authorizing secret payments to a woman who leveled sexual harassment charges against Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, who then stepped down as chairman of the Democratic Party in Brooklyn. The secret deal was bad judgment, which Silver acknowledged, but more than that it is suggestive of a style of leadership that is unwanted at the top of state government.
Cuomo has denied moving against Silver and, indeed, it would be a difficult and delicate move for a governor to try to oust the leader of a different branch of government. It’s just one of the ways this report sounds an odd ring. Both men claim to remain partners.
Still, it is undeniable that Cuomo has taken a reformer’s approach to state government and that Silver showed zero interest in that urgent task before Cuomo’s election. We don’t know that a successor would make a marked improvement – Assembly speakers are routinely culled from Democrats’ downstate delegation – but all leaders run out their string at some point. They get stale or lack the energy for the fights that need to be undertaken. If Silver isn’t there, he’s close. It’s time for someone new.