I will apologize in advance to our readers if this looks like coverage of a “local story” but it actually may be a harbinger for the kind of state and local level change which is required for real progress in America. The New York Times is reporting that today an arrest will be made in Albany, the state’s capital. The suspect is question is none other than the Speaker of the state Assembly, Sheldon Silver.
Federal authorities are expected to arrest Sheldon Silver, the powerful speaker of the New York State Assembly, on corruption charges on Thursday, people with knowledge of the matter said. The case is likely to throw Albany into disarray at the beginning of a new session.
The investigation that led to the expected charges against Mr. Silver, a Democrat from the Lower East Side of Manhattan who has served as speaker for more than two decades, began after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in March abruptly shut down an anticorruption commission he had created in 2013.
Details of the specific charges to be brought against Mr. Silver were unclear on Wednesday night, but one of the people with knowledge of the matter said they stemmed from payments that Mr. Silver received from a small law firm that specializes in seeking reductions of New York City real estate taxes. The total amount of the payments was unclear, but another person has said they were substantial and were made over several years.
The details of these “substantial” payments – which Silver somehow forgot to report – are not provided, and as far as I’m concerned, aren’t really important. That’s not the shocking part of this story. The truly amazing part is that anyone in New York was willing to cooperate with the Feds and actually make a move against him. For those of you in other parts of the country and the world, Sheldon Silver has been the Speaker since before some of our younger readers were born. He is a legend in New York, and has long been acknowledged as the most powerful person in the state’s Democrat machine. Rumors have swirled for years about some of his more questionable dealings, but honestly there were few who ever thought that anyone could lay a finger on him. Nothing gets done in Empire State government dealings without Silver’s say so.
But even more interesting are the implications this might have for the history of the absolute debacle known as the Moreland Commission. Originally established by Governor Andrew Cuomo, ostensibly to investigate government corruption and provide more transparency for the public, the commission was shut down by the governor long before its work was concluded. Numerous off the record reports from the Albany press corps hinted that the commissioners had done their jobs a little too well and their prying eyes had gotten a little too close to the office of the Governor himself and other members of his party.
We’ve yet to see anything about evidence of charges against the Governor, but in light of this news an entertaining new possibility rises to the surface. Keep in mind that the premature closing of the Moreland Commission was a huge political embarrassment for Cuomo. Some felt that the scandal was enough to change the Governor’s mind about possibly challenging for the 2016 Democrat presidential nomination. If he wasn’t worried that the commission had something on him, why would he open himself to such attacks by shutting it down? New theory: the commission was following a trail not to the Governor’s mansion, but to the Speaker’s offices. And if there is one person in the entire state of New York who could figuratively hold a gun to Cuomo’s head and get him to take such a politically suicidal action, that man would be Sheldon Silver.
So how does this apply on the national level? New York may be home to one of the oldest and most corrupt political machines in the nation, but it’s hardly unique. The real power in the U.S. does not reside in Washington, as we have seen over and over again. The state and local governments are where the policies which shape day to day life for citizens and businesses are crafted. And many of them have shady political dynasties holding on to power by any means possible, with plenty of money changing hands, frequently involving powerful unions and Democrat supporters. If you want to see change, that’s where it starts. And if Sheldon Silver can be taken down, then nearly anything is possible.
There may be hope for us all yet.