The winds of political change are howling in Albany – but not when it comes to Assembly Speaker-for-life Sheldon Silver.
He faced no opposition in his lower Manhattan district on Tuesday, and looks to keep his job as boss of half the Legislature in similarly effortless fashion.
January will mark his 17th year as one of the three most powerful officials in state government. That’s more than long enough for one man to exercise that kind of power.
It’s time for him to step down and let someone else bang the gavel.
New York deserves fresh leadership in the Legislature to go with its new governor. And Silver, entering his 35th year in the Assembly, is anything but fresh.
He hasn’t advanced a creative agenda in years. His official legislative biography – which appears not to have been updated since 2000 – cites the establishment of universal prekindergarten in 1998 as one of his hallmark accomplishments.
Twelve years later, that law is still being “phased in.” For one-third of the state’s school districts and 60% of its 4-year-olds, pre-K still is not “universal.”
No, Silver’s true forte is opposing things. He did his best to stymie former Gov. George Pataki for 12 years, and helped to hobble the agendas of Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson for the past four.
He has also opposed real ethics reform, which is why he can refuse to disclose his income from the personal-injury law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg while using his clout to block tort reform.
The failings of Silver’s leadership style were perfectly captured in the recent inspector general report on the scandal at Aqueduct.
Silver was one of the three officials empowered to choose an operator for a multibillion-dollar video slots parlor. But he refused to pick a favorite among the bidders.
When Paterson and Senate leaders settled on the worst of six contenders, Silver failed to speak up. Instead, he merely imposed conditions he knew would kill the deal.
Silver can take credit – as the official with most influence in appointing the state Board of Regents – for supporting important effort to raise academic standards in New York.
He also provided a much-needed steady hand during the past two years of chaos in the Senate and the governor’s office. And he’s the one top legislative leader not currently under criminal investigation.
Still, that’s not a rationale for staying as speaker. Nor is his rumored desire to set the record for longest-serving speaker, which would require him to hang around until at least 2016.
He could probably do that if he wants. Andrew Cuomo shows no sign of trying to push him out, nor do any of his members show the ambition to challenge his leadership.
Which tends to prove the point. With him entrenched in the speaker’s office, his rank and file get no chance to exercise their leadership muscles. And that’s not healthy in a representative democracy.
Silver should do what George Washington did – and voluntarily step down for the good of democracy.
He’s already had nine years more than Washington did. That’s plenty.
(Source: NY Daily News)