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Democrats prepare to oust Silver on Monday

ALBANY - Assembly Democrats are moving to adopt a formal resolution on the Assembly floor calling for Sheldon Silver’s ouster next Monday if he does not resign as speaker before the house returns to Albany next week.

In an all-afternoon, closed-door session at the state Capitol, Democrats are growing increasingly frustrated that Silver is still holding onto his leadership post.

Silver was expected to meet with rank-and-file Democrats this afternoon but he has remained holed up in his Capitol office just down the hall from where Democrats are discussing a succession process. Lawmakers are debating whether to take an approach to appoint an interim or longer term replacement, and if a formal evaluation process should be put in place to look at qualifications for a new speaker.

“It’s suddenly very democratic and deliberative. Issues are being aired. It is very different,’’ said one Assembly Democrat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

When asked if Silver was going to resign today, Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle of Monroe County Democrat responded: “I don’t know.”

Morelle was among those who met privately with Silver Monday night to inform him of the no-confidence sentiment in the 105-member Democratic conference.

That request for Silver to voluntarily step down came during a more than five-hour closed-door meeting Monday night.

Intense backroom jockeying was already underway among Democrats who are pitching themselves as possible “caretaker” leaders through the upcoming budget talks with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Senate. Others are presenting themselves as the long-term future possible Speaker.

Who can put together the strongest coalition most quickly has the best chance of succeeding Silver.

Morelle is among the names mentioned as an interim-type leader, though his upstate address makes it tough for him. Most Assembly Democrats are from New York City.

Then there’s Assemblyman Carl Heastie from the Bronx, who is said to be most actively campaigning for the job.

Both Morelle and Heastie are considered tight with Cuomo, which some members privately raised as concerns because of Cuomo’s frosty relations with many members of the Democratic conference.

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat, is also saying today he is still interested in Silver’s job if he resigns.

Asked if there was already a succession fight underway, Morelle said, “I certainly hope not.”

He said the private Democratic conference, at which Silver was to speak, was called to “discuss ideas on how to transition (and) lend stability to the house during the budget process.”

There are at least two schools of thought on an interim leader. Supporters like it because it provides for the stability theory, leaving fewer angry lawmakers in the dust who got passed over for Silver’s job.

But detractors say the Assembly needs someone who can be considered a more permanent successor to increase the negotiating abilities as the Assembly Democrats are set to do battle with Cuomo and the Senate on funding and policy matters in the budget. The budget is due March 31.

To be sure, an interim speaker idea would only sharpen the internal maneuvering already underway – and drag it out for a long, potentially ugly session for the Democrats.

Assembly Democrats heading to the private conference meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said several scenarios are still playing out, including much speculation about what Silver might tell the Democrats in the meeting and whether he is still trying to somehow hang onto his title. Having been asked to leave by his conference Monday night, such a possibility left many lawmakers scratching their heads.

“Geez, I hope so,” one Democrat said when asked if he thought Silver would resign today. The lawmaker, from upstate, also said he admires Morelle and thinks he would do a good job as interim leader, but wonders how he can pull the votes off when the conference is dominated by New York City members.

“You can’t have a leadership fight until there is a vacancy,” said one veteran Democrat, who then acknowledged there is “much preparation” well underway by would-be successors to gather up supporters in the hours or days ahead. “I think some possibilities are not even in the public mix yet,” said the lawmaker.

Then there was this Albany truism, in the words of one lawmaker, that all Democrats were pondering this morning: “In a leadership fight, you don’t want to pick the wrong side.”

Assembly Democrats are the only lawmakers left at the Capitol. The Republicans were sent home last night after the session was canceled for both Monday and Tuesday, and the Senate left town Monday in advance of a snow storm.

An unusual scene also played itself out for another day at the Capitol: Assembly guards were ordered to prevent reporters from gaining their usual access to a hallway outside the Assembly chamber. The hall leads to Silver’s office, where he has been holed up for most of two days.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com

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