As Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver approaches his 20th anniversary as the most powerful man in the state of New York, trouble looms. New Yorkers, by a 51-percent majority of respondents to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday, a surprisingly weak number compared to his bad press, want him to resign.
Shelly is as clean as the driven snow, but the survey says that most of us want him booted over a mishandling of a complaint against former Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
In other news, Venezuelans voted 63-37 to impeach President Obama. Or to say it plainly, New Yorkers don’t get to decide who the Assembly Speaker is, assemblymen do. And they must know something the Sulzbergers, Murdochs and Zuckermans don’t know — they’re voting by more than 98 percent to keep Silver in power.
The only assembly members to buck him are Michael Kearns, a Republican-turned-Democrat who promptly rejoined the GOP after his denunciation of Silver, and Inez Barron — wife of Charles “Black Panther” Barron of “Gaza is a concentration camp” fame. Silver didn’t bother removing her privileges. “She never voted for me for speaker to begin with,” he noted.
The inscrutable job of speaker may come as a surprise to those who wonder why House Speaker John Boehner can’t be more articulate or why he doesn’t lead the battle against congressional Democrats more persuasively. As do parliament speakers across the world, they don’t have to be able to speak plainly. Theirs is an insider post, best described by the Reagan-era House Speaker Tip O’Neill as “herding cats.”
And a hard job it is. There are swift cats, sluggish cats, young cats, old cats, clean cats, thieving cats, some guiltily wiping the cream off their whiskers, others doing so innocently. Some would allocate $100 million a year to buy every kid a popsicle, others would halve the state budget and still fret at the frivolous spending. Some win reelection regularly with 98.76 percent of the vote, others lose narrowly and make a comeback four years later.
The only thing they all have in common is that Shelly has their back. Fully. And they have his back now. As it should be.
But what’s riling up the survey respondents is the fact that the speaker has no say in who is elected to his chamber; the people do. And he works with the hand that he is dealt, including some of the handcuffed characters New York has discovered over the past three months.
As Sen. Roman Hruska said in defense of a federal judge criticized for being mediocre, “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”
There are many criminals in the city. You can trust me that they are well represented in the state legislature. The criminal population is entitled to a little representation, aren’t they?
But New York’s tabloids, and even the paper claiming to print in fits, or fits in print, have drawn a red target on Silver’s back, and has been practicing shooting at it. No two days pass by without a New York Times editorial, a lurid New York Post news/gossip piece or a Daily News exclusive come out with a new angle how Silver’s resignation would make the state a better place.
Enough. Vito Lopez is out, shamed into his Bushwick hole by his web of lies and ego. I wouldn’t trust his good morning, let alone a third-hand accusation from him against Silver, who has not a personal scandal in all his years in office.
Shelly Silver has proven a master
at behind-the-scenes politicking. The results are obvious. Compare the disciplined Assembly with its out-of-control sister chamber, the state Senate. Until the Republicans took over the majority, the Senate was a lesson in inept leadership. (Its leaders during the Democratic majority days were Pedro Espada, John Sampson and Malcolm Smith — all charged now with corruption.)
To be clear, the Orthodox community has not hesitated to make known its displeasure at some of Silver’s legislative actions over the years that do not reflect Torah principles. But he has generally had our back. Now is the time to have his.
“He is a great advocate for the community,” veteran askan Shimon Ostreicher told this writer. “Without him, all the good that we accomplished would not have happened. I pray that he comes out of this quickly and unscathed.”
Ms. Grey Lady, Speaker Silver is the solution, not the problem. Time to move on.