Mail this story to a friend.          
NYSNYS NEWS: Silver arrest threatens worst crisis in state government since Spitzer, but Cuomo Lt. Gov. Hochul says chaos won't derail their agenda for 2015.
NYSNYS NEWS: Silver arrest threatens worst crisis in state government since Spitzer, but Cuomo Lt. Gov. Hochul says chaos won't derail their agenda for 2015.

By Kyle Hughes

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (January 22) – The legislative session descended into chaos Thursday with the arrest of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, but Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul insisted the latest Albany scandal won't derail her and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's agenda.

"The public should also know they have a government that is going to continue working for them through difficult times like this," Hochul said at a public library here, debuting a road show promoting Cuomo's 2015-16 budget plan. "We don't have the outcome of the process that just began late last night with the speaker so there's not much to comment on that."

"But the government will continue," she said. "There is a very aggressive agenda to improve the lives of businesses and people have made New York State their home."

Hochul spoke as Silver's arrest on corruption charges threatened to spiral into the worst crisis to hit state government since former Gov. Eliot Spitzer was forced resign following a prostitution scandal. She said it was too soon to say whether Silver should step down from the powerful post he has held since 1994.

"There is certainly a process that needs to work its way out," she said. "This is very early."

She said Silver's arrest on charges of taking $5 million in bribes and kickbacks "does not distract from our mission at hand which is to make sure that the governor's agenda which was laid out again just yesterday becomes a reality."

Cuomo, who on Wednesday compared himself, Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to "the Three Amigos," stayed out of sight as speculation swirled that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara may have him in his sights. The charges against Silver grew out of Cuomo's sudden shutdown of the Moreland anti-corruption investigation.

Democrats were under pressure Thursday to take a stand on Silver, who has weathered innumerable scandals and investigations during his time in office, including the Assembly's chief legal counsel being accused of rape, cover-ups of sexual harassment of staff, and the husband of his longtime chief of staff convicted of stealing millions from a Jewish charity.

After canceling Thursday's session and huddling behind closed doors, Assembly Democrats emerged to say Silver still had their unqualified support to continue on as leader. That drew a withering response from Republicans.

"Assembly Democrats' continued support for Sheldon Silver in the wake of such outrageous corruption charges is beyond embarrassing: it shames our entire state," NYGOP spokesman David Laska said in an email sent to reporters.

The arrest of Silver on charges of taking $5 million in bribes and kickbacks in the guise of payment for legal services drew expressions of anguish or silence from Democrats.

"This issue is obviously troubling and at the same time I was not quick to condemn Joe Bruno and therefore not quick to condemn Speaker Silver," Assembly member John McDonald (D-Cohoes) said. "If there were wrongdoings in his personal or business life then he needs to address those issues in the legal process that exist. Meanwhile we have a budget to address and that is where my focus has been and remains."

Former Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari said he didn't believe the charges against Silver.

"I've known Shelly for about 30 years," Canestrari said. "He's very bright and very smart. He must be given his day in court. We all sometimes rush to judgment. Let the facts come out and let the other side present its case. Just because the U.S. attorney said something does not mean it is criminally or legally true."

"The long-awaited drain of the swamp has finally commenced," Assembly member Steve McLaughlin (R-Melrose) said. "This arrest has been a long time coming and Silver should have resigned after he used taxpayer money to keep the victims of sexual harassment quiet. Silver’s disgraceful behavior is one of the main reasons that residents have no trust in state government."