For Dems, Assembly is a big clearinghouse

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver speaks to members of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver speaks to members of the press in Charlotte, N.C., before the Democratic National Convention. (Sept. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Chris Ware

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997, initially as a staff writer for the New ...

Sometimes it becomes hard to tell where the State Assembly ends and the state Democratic Party begins.

For the fiefdoms, players and interests that drive the state's dominant party, the Assembly serves as a well-trafficked intersection, a kind of clearinghouse.

This is one reason that the latest sex-harassment storm, now blowing through Albany's lower house and buffeting longtime Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), resonates.

Some speculation of who may succeed Silver -- whenever the time comes -- settles on Assemb. Keith Wright, the Manhattan Democratic chairman, whom Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo tapped this year to co-chair the state party committee. Wright's position made him a state delegation leader at the recent Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) not only served as Kings County party chairman until he resigned effective this week, but his seniority meant he could deliver money to district projects. He headed the Housing Committee, helping draw campaign contributions from construction firms.

Assemb. Carl Heastie, chairman of the Cities Committee, is the Bronx Democratic chairman. His predecessor in that role, José Rivera, also was in the Assembly -- as was Lopez's predecessor in Brooklyn, Clarence Norman, later convicted and imprisoned.

Assemb. Joe Morelle, a well-connected member of Silver's majority -- also mentioned by insiders as a potential successor -- heads the Monroe County Democratic Committee.

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Their partisan power rests in numbers. Based on its population, New York City has 65 seats in the Assembly, and all but two of them are in Democratic hands. City Democrats, in fact, outnumber the total number of Republicans statewide.

A former top-level Assembly member noted Tuesday that one reason many members are county chairs is the city's conflict-of-interest ban on holding party positions while serving in city elected office. There's no such restriction for state legislators.

Occasionally, the Assembly Democrats get to dominate legislature-wide votes to replace statewide officials. They voted in one of their own, then-Assemb. Oliver Koppell, to fill a vacancy as state attorney general in 1993; and another of their own, then-Assemb. Thomas DiNapoli, to fill a vacancy as state comptroller in 2007.

Voters elected DiNapoli to that post in 2010. But his past ties to Silver and the Assembly give extra political edge, in terms of perception, to accounts this week of how DiNapoli's office consulted Silver's office on parts of the Assembly's now-controversial out-of-court settlements with Lopez's harassment accusers.

Given the Assembly's role as Democrat Central, it is little wonder that the state GOP raises the Lopez issue whenever possible during this legislative election season. Having already demanded Silver's resignation, Republican chairman Ed Cox Thursday slammed Assemb. Grace Meng (D-Queens), who's running for Congress, for holding a Manhattan fundraiser on the "hallowed" day of Sept. 11, with Silver as guest of honor.

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Meng won a primary in June with support from Rep. Joseph Crowley, who is also the county Democratic chairman. Before reaching Congress, Crowley served for 12 years in -- where else? -- the State Assembly.

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