Sheldon Silver, enemy of good governmentA few years ago, the Brennan Center at New York University law school concluded that New York had the most dysfunctional state legislature in the nation. The recent process by which the legislature appointed one of its own to become the new state comptroller illustrates this.
In November, Alan Hevesi was re-elected to the comptroller position despite having admitted to criminal wrongdoing. He plead guilty to having illegally using a state employee to act as a chauffeur and personal assistant to his wife and resigned from office.
According to a provision in New York's state constitution, if the comptroller post becomes vacant, a replacement is chosen by a joint session of the legislature (the same provision also applies to the attorney general). The constitutional provision was intended to fill a brief part of the four year term in case the comptroller died in office or resigned to seek higher office, not for him resigning before his term even begins.
Constitutionally, the governor has no role in this however the new governor Eliot Spitzer cajoled the two legislative leaders to agree to a commission comprised of former state comptrollers that would propose up to five candidates for the legislature to consider.
The commission offered three qualified candidates, none of which were members of the state Assembly. But Assembly Democrats wanted one of their own to get the job, qualified or not. So they pressured Speaker Sheldon Silver to reneg on the deal. Silver used the pathetic excuse that the commission was supposed to offer EXACTLY five candidates (not up to five, as Spitzer claimed and as was widely reported at the time), so when the body came up with only three, Silver used this as the loophole to get out a deal that his conference was not happy he'd entered in to in the first place.
Senate Democrats, closely allied with Spitzer, pushed for New York City's finance commissioner to be appointed; she was one of the three candidates recommended by the commission. But since Assembly Democrats alone control almost half of the combined legislature, they were able to ram through popular Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli as the state's new chief fiscal officer, even though he has virtually no relevant experience.
was blasted by Gov. Eliot Spitzer. The new chief executive said '"showed a stunning lack of integrity that is deeply troubling" and pointed out that the process only confirmed New Yorkers' worst perceptions about how things are done in corrupt Albany.
Though he is a Democrat, I've long said that Silver embodies everything that is wrong with Albany. What he did is perfectly in keeping with his habits as an old fashioned machine politician that many other places have consigned to the history books. The only difference is that now he's going against a governor who apparently wants to do his job.
People speak vaguely about the ills of Albany but it's important to remember that the legislature is led by people. Silver is one of those people. And while the populist Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno makes no bones about his pork barrel politics, Silver is the real enemy number one of reform in Albany because he hides behind rhetoric and obfuscation to prop up the corrupt status quo. Some on the left give Silver a free pass because he sides with the all powerful public employees' and teachers' unions. But if you support good governance and want to address the problems that are being exacerbated by bad governance, Silver has been a roadblock ever since he took office. No wonder he and Bruno rely on gerrymandering and rigging electoral district lines to preserve their majorities.
When given the chance to follow a fair and rational procedure, Silver had no problem reneging on his publically stated promise and resorted to the old habits of cronyism. If you needed any further evidence that he can't be trusted, this is it!
I did not vote for Eliot Spitzer but he is right to go after the legislative leaders and their ways. It's even more gutsy of him to go after a legislative leader from his own party. But on the other hand, Spitzer must know that if he's serious about his reform agenda, Silver is standing in the way. The status quo doesn't work and New Yorkers don't like it. The comptroller episode represents everything that's wrong with Albany. Back room deals (that are broken). Cronyism. Opacity.
Tom DiNapoli may be a nice guy but the state's chief fiscal officer is too important a position to be given to someone simply because he's Shelly Silver's good buddy and lifelong pal. This is not about the individual chosen to be comptroller. It's about the crooked process by which that individual was chosen. Silver's way is not part of the problem in Albany. It IS the problem. If Assembly Democrats are the least bit serious about making Albany functional, they will replace him as their leader.