By Tom Precious
ALBANY -– The Cuomo administration is shooting down a story today in the New York Post that reported Gov. Andrew Cuomo and top aides were working over the weekend on a plan to lead a coup against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
The Post story, which interestingly said Cuomo's move to oust Silver comes at the same time he is dangling a pay raise for lawmakers, said Cuomo has grown tired of the corruption cases in the Assembly and Silver’s control over the house going back to the days of former Gov. Mario Cuomo. (The claim, also interestingly, comes less than two weeks after Cuomo publicly praised Silver for his role in the recent 2013 budget talks).
“It is 100 percent not true,’’ an administration official said this morning of the Post report. Asked what was not true in the story, the official said, “That the name Shelly Silver even came up in the conversations.”
“Nothing was discussed this weekend, including anything disparaging about the leadership of either house,’’ the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In typical fashion when controversial stories break or Cuomo wants to get his side out, the governor is due to be interviewed on a public radio station later this morning. He has no schedule to talk on the record to any other reporters today, according to his public schedule.
The Post story said Cuomo was upset about the recent corruption cases brought by federal prosecutors against a Senate Democrat, Malcolm Smith, and an Assembly Democrat, Eric Stevenson. The Post story said nothing about Cuomo being concerned about the long line of corruption cases in the Senate over the years, including Smith's arrest last week.
The story quoted an unnamed Cuomo administration official as saying Silver has “been the master of gaming the corrupt system for 20 years.’’
If the Post story has any legs, it is curious why the Cuomo administration would want to broadcast that the governor is making a coup move against Silver. In 2000, then Asssembly Majority Leader Michael Bragman, a Syracuse Democrat, failed in his attempt to take out Silver after he made public his plans to lead a coup against Silver. The public relations blunder allowed time for Silver and his allies to make a major push back against Bragman.
Uncertain, also, is whether Cuomo, unless he knows something not yet made public, would have the political power to take out Silver. The Democratic conference in the Assembly is fairly well split along geographic, political, gender and racial lines, and Silver has mastered the art of moving between the different factions and rewarding key lawmakers with choice committee assignments and policy victories.
UPDATE: Cuomo personally denied he is working on any plan to try to oust Silver. Cuomo, noting the recent budget deal he closed with Silver, called the Assembly leader a “partner’’ in government and that those accused recently of wrongdoing were acting on their own.
“It is wholly up to the legislative bodies to select a leader. I would never even for a moment try to influence that decision, and again in this case I don’t see what the Speaker had to do with any of these purely personal, individual acts by two Assembly people,’’ Cuomo said on a public radio interview this morning. He also addressed two scandals that broke last week involving an Assembly member busted on corruption charges and revelations that a second had been cooperating with federal prosecutors for the past several years on corruption probes involving lawmakers.
Asked if he and his staff had any talks about wanting Silver out wanting to work with others instead of Silver, Cuomo said he and legislative leaders just accomplished the “great feat’’ of enacting an on-time budget for the third year in a row. “So, no, it’s going well,’’ he said.
But Cuomo said he wants to use the recent scandals as an opportunity to get passed changes to how politicians get on the ballot, campaign finance rules, enforcement of laws by election boards and laws affecting the business of lobbying. He was vague on specific solutions, though he said a package is being worked on.
One specific problem area, he noted, is the process by which someone not enrolled in a party can get on that party’s ballot with the permission of county party leaders; Malcolm Smith was accused last week of trying to bribe county GOP leaders in New York City to get on mayoral ballot in this year’s election in the city.
“We have a moment where we can bring change,’’ Cuomo said of the publicity over the latest round of alleged wrongdoing by state lawmakers.
Cuomo talked of giving more legal authority to district attorneys in New York to investigate corruption involving state officials and to address long-held claims by watchdog groups that state and local election boards do little to enforce laws, especially against incumbents. “I don’t think anyone would say they are doing their jobs well,’’ Cuomo said of election agencies charged with enforcing campaign finance laws.
Cuomo also did not rule out using a Moreland Act Commission, an investigatory panel a governor can create with strong legal powers. He did not, though, say what such a commission might investigate.