“I will be vindicated.”
This was New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s pronouncement following a court appearance on Thursday. Silver, a figure many believe to be the most powerful man in Empire State politics, was arrested on a variety of corruption charges including taking payoffs and abusing the privileges of his office. But, according to a report, Silver’s colleagues in the Assembly did not await his vindication before moving against him.
The New York Post revealed on Friday that a coup against Silver was put in motion in the wake of the speaker’s arrest.
“The plan, which some in the Legislature contend could have enlisted the support of Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo, a Democrat, would have had the Assembly’s 44 Republicans vote as a bloc with a minimum of 32 of the Assembly’s 106 Democrats to cast the 76 votes needed to elect someone other than Silver, the Manhattan Democrat now being probed by US Attorney Preet Bharara,” The Post’s Fredric Dicker reported.
The plot, reportedly concocted by Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, had been concocted years ago, but was only put into motion when it became clear that the attorney general’s investigation into Silver was bearing fruit.
The plan was, however, thwarted when – according to Drucker – leading Assembly Republican Brian Kolb, “who many lawmakers insist is actually in league with Silver,” scuttled the plot.
Kolb has repeatedly and conspicuously refused to criticize Silver since becoming the Assembly’s GOP leader in 2009 despite a series of scandals and allegations of ethical transgressions including the speaker’s highly controversial approval of a secret $100,000-plus settlement paid to female staff members of former Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez, whom they accused of sexual harassment.
Most recently, Kolb has been silent on the revelations now being examined by Bharara that Silver has apparently been receiving substantial income from a little-known Manhattan law firm, Goldberg & Iryami, but failed to disclose the information as legally required on his state financial-disclosure statement.
Kolb, after the Lopez scandal broke, bizarrely contended that Assembly Republicans shouldn’t criticize Silver because “none of the Republicans voted for him for speaker.’’
“Republican James Tedisco, Kolb’s predecessor as minority leader, told the Post that Silver might have some dirt on Kolb and might be directly or indirectly blackmailing him,” a report in Jewish Business News read. “However, sources close to Silver deny this.”
When you strike at the king, strike true. Silver may be a diminished figure, but he remains perhaps the most powerful person in New York state Democratic politics. This is not the first time that Silver has faced insurrection in the Assembly, and it won’t be the first time that he takes revenge against the mutinous elements within his ranks.
“Dissatisfaction with Silver surged in 2000, when African-American and Hispanic members faulted him for failing to support Comptroller Carl McCall’s run against Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary,” Recalled Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein in 2010. “That dissatisfaction burst into the open on a Wednesday in May, when the Assembly’s second-in-command, a hard-nosed politician from Syracuse named Michael Bragman, launched a coup.”
Thanks to the peculiarity of Assembly rules —and Bragman’s poor timing—Silver had the rest of the week and the weekend to whittle away at his opponent’s support. And so he did.
By Monday, when the vote was held, only 63 members—including about 20 Democrats—supported the measure to unseat Silver. The speaker held a press conference declaring victory, during which Silver said it was his intention to “cut the cancer out of the leadership team.” The Post, of all papers, asked him to apologize for his choice of words. Meanwhile, with tyrannical efficiency, Silver systematically took his revenge on the coup backers.
He stripped Bragman of his majority leader title and the $34,500 in stipends, forced him to fire 12 staffers, reduced his overall budget from $1.36 million to $125,000 a year and stripped him of his capacious office across the street from the Capitol and his office off the Assembly floor, relocating him to the bowels, where the minority conference resided. The following month, a defeated Bragman forced back tears in front of a reporter for the New York Times.
As the Daily News editorial board noted at the time, “Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver managed to put down the coup against him almost before it began—by wielding the kind of crushing, autocratic power that prompted the takeover attempt in the first place.”
Nearly 15 years later, a wounded Silver may have pulled of another feat by avoiding a political coup – this time, with the aid of a resurgent Republican party that today controls the Empire State’s Senate and a sizable minority in the Assembly. Now that’s a coup.
An earlier version of this post mislabeled the author of the New York Post article.