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JAN 27 - FEB 03, 2015

Democrats Struggle to Replace Silver as Probe Continues

By Tony Farina

January 27, 2015

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is transported by federal agents to federal court, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in New York.
Former Sen. George Maziarz
US Attorney Preet Bharara.
Assemblyman John Ceretto

The U. S. attorney who filed charges against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver last week is still on the warpath when it comes to investigating corruption in the State Capitol and he told reporters to "stay tuned" as he continues his aggressive probe that had its roots in the governor's now disbanded Moreland Commission.

Assembly Democrats, worried about mounting negative public opinion, are anxious to find a replacement for Silver, at least on an interim basis, after he was accused in a complaint by U. S. Attorney Preet Bharara of lining his pockets with about $4 million in bribes and kickbacks for over a decade.

At a news conference with the FBI, Bharara said: "For many years, New Yorkers have asked the question: How could Speaker Silver, one of the most powerful men in all of New York, earn millions of dollars in outside income without deeply compromising his ability to honestly serve his constituents? Today, we provide the answer: He didn't."

The arrest of Silver came one day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address, and there are reports the governor is anxious to find out what's coming next out of the U. S. attorney's probe that has many in Albany scurrying for cover as political scalps continue to pile up.

But as Assembly Democrats scrambled Monday to find at least a temporary replacement for Silver in the wake of the burgeoning corruption probe, work on the people's business came pretty much to a halt as there seemed to be a lack of consensus on a new leader and bad weather was moving in on the Northeast, sending many lawmakers from the leaderless Assembly heading home.

Assemblyman John Ceretto (R. C. I.-Lewiston) made the trip to Albany but turned around and headed back home after a day when nothing was accomplished in the way of the people's business.

"The public's trust is going in the wrong direction," said Ceretto by telephone as he watched Democrats struggle to come to agreement on a replacement for Silver as newspaper editorials and social media came down hard on Albany's seeming endless circle of corruption.

"The status quo has got to go," said Ceretto, a view similar to that of a fellow Assemblyman from across the political aisle, South Buffalo's Mickey Kearns.

Kearns, a longtime critic of Silver even though he is a member of the Democratic conference, immediately called for Silver to step down and is planning to call on Gov. Cuomo to reinstate the Moreland Commission "so that it may finish the job of rooting out corruption throughout Albany and all of New York State."

In a statement Monday night, Ceretto called on Democrats to elect a new speaker so that the people's work can get done.

"Electing a new speaker is not only the first step in getting the people's work done, but it is instrumental in restoring the public's trust," said Ceretto. "Right now, the Assembly Democrats are seen as the conference of corruption. The only way to change this image is by electing new leadership and enacting real reforms."

While Democrats Kearns and Sean Ryan from Buffalo are seen as important players in the Democratic conference, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz issued a statement saying that the next speaker of the Assembly must be elected from New York City. That would leave out of consideration members like Rochester's Joe Morelle, a Silver supporter, who was briefly seen as a possible interim speaker on Monday.

While Silver may be the current face of the corruption probe by the U. S. attorney, there are a number of other lawmakers who still seem to be under intense scrutiny, including retired State Sen. George Maziarz (R-Newfane) who is being investigated for his use of campaign funds.

Speaking of campaign funds, Silver will have plenty of money for legal fees, as does Maziarz, given the fact that Friends of Silver currently has $3.3 million in the bank to take care of his defense. And there is a fundraiser planned for Feb. 8 at the Hotel Albany to stuff a little more cash into Silver's account. Maziarz is still sitting on about $1 million in his war chest even as he begins collecting his retirement pension.

It may take several days before Democrats can come together on their next speaker, but there will be tremendous pressure on both sides of the aisle and in both houses to come up with ethics reform and other changes, including limits on outside income, to at least give the appearance that lawmakers are serious about cleaning up government, a job they have refused to take on before and they now face the prospect of a federal prosecutor doing it for them. His first target was a very big fish, but for a prosecutor like Bharara, armed with the Moreland Commission files, this may be like shooting fish in a barrel.

As he said, stay tuned.






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