ALBANY – When Assembly Democrats gathered behind the speaker’s rostrum Thursday to declare their support for Sheldon Silver, it represented years of loyalty to their embattled leader.
But after Silver’s arrest earlier in the day in New York City on federal corruption charges, not everyone is in his corner. Republicans everywhere – and especially in Western New York – called on him to resign, while Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns of South Buffalo emerged as one of only two Democrats in the Assembly to call for the speaker’s departure.
“I want Sheldon Silver to resign his leadership post,” Kearns said. “I think he should do it immediately, especially with budget negotiations beginning.”
The move was hardly unexpected for Kearns, who was elected to the Assembly with Republican support in 2012 and ran on the promise to vote against Silver for speaker.
Kearns said he will also ask Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to reinstate the anti-corruption Moreland Commission, the panel that the governor shut down last year as part of a deal with legislators.
Kearns’ move was viewed as significant as he and Assemblyman Charles Barron of Brooklyn became the only Democrats who failed to support Silver – even as he was escorted Thursday out of a Manhattan courthouse under arrest.
Republican reaction was swift and to the point: Silver must go. Top leaders such as Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb of Canandaigua and the spokesman for State Republican Chairman Edward F. Cox called for the speaker to step aside.
And so did Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy, who not only called for Silver’s departure but attempted to put local Democratic members of the Assembly on the spot, too.
“Earlier this month, Sean Ryan, Robin Schimminger and Crystal Peoples-Stokes voted blindly for Sheldon Silver as speaker of the Assembly. Mickey Kearns was the only Democrat locally to vote to end Silver’s reign,” Langworthy said.
“Sean Ryan and this Democratic delegation had heard the allegations, they knew of the cover-ups and understood the culture of corruption that has circled Sheldon Silver, yet they disgraced Western New York by again voting for him to lead the New York State Assembly.
“I now ask the question formally to all members of the Western New York Democratic Assembly delegation: Will you personally continue to support Sheldon Silver as speaker, or will you do the right thing and call for his resignation?”
Ryan responded with a statement saying he was “deeply disturbed” by the day’s developments.
“Over the next few days, I will continue to consult with my colleagues about the best way to move forward both in the immediate future and long term,” the Buffalo Democrat said.
“Governing and doing the people’s business must always come first.”
Peoples-Stokes, another Buffalo Democrat, echoed the conference line of supporting Silver – for now. “This calls for the process to work itself out,” she said.
“As a black person in America, I don’t want to see anybody be guilty until they get their day in court. The speaker should have the opportunity to go through the process.”
Still, she acknowledged that it will be “interesting” to hear Silver give his side of the story to his Democratic Conference on Monday, when he is scheduled to return to Albany. She added that she is eager to read the 35-page criminal complaint issued in Manhattan by Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
“I’m disappointed this is coming up now,” she said. “If it’s all true, the speaker and his family will be going through a lot, and no one should experience that, especially someone I consider a friend.”
Kearns will join Republican members of the Assembly from Western New York at a Friday morning news conference at the Mahoney State Office Building downtown to call on Silver to resign.
Republican members such as Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin of Clarence left no doubt that they want a new speaker, even if almost all have served only under Silver’s leadership.
“I encourage my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to immediately elect a new speaker who is worthy of the distinction and honor of proceeding over the people’s house,” she said, “and who will help deliver a fiscally responsible and equitable on-time budget for the State of New York.”
Corwin also called for new ethics laws on disclosure of outside businesses, which Silver for years had refused to consider and which now stands at the heart of the charges against him.
“No one is above the law, and if not for each official’s personal sense of moral or ethical obligation, at the very least they should be adhered to for the sake of protecting the public’s trust in the institution,” she said.
Assemblyman Raymond W. Walter, R-Amherst, said he will continue to work for ethics reform while calling on Silver to end the “distraction.”
“I can only hope that Assembly Democrats are in agreement that this is what is best for the Assembly and for New York State,” Walter said.
Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston, also called for new ethics reform legislation while calling on Silver to resign.
“Silver is the embodiment of Albany’s culture of corruption, and we cannot start repairing the public’s trust in government as long as he is still in power,” he said.
“Silver has been at the center of Albany’s corruption for years, most notably with his use of taxpayer dollars to pay off victims of sexual abuse in the Assembly. Hopefully, today’s developments are the beginning of the end for Silver’s reign in Albany.”