Voter-fraud prosecution unlikely for Silver

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 ...

Don't bet the mortgage money that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance will push the envelope and prosecute Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver -- or anyone else -- based on the fact that Silver's three grown children still vote from his Lower East Side address while maintaining homes elsewhere.

Vance, a Democrat, has been widely expected to look at the situation after Daniel Isaacs, the Manhattan Republican chairman, declared, citing a published report, "If . . . the speaker's family has been voting at a false address to benefit their father, it's voter fraud -- plain and simple."

Silver has insisted the practice of adults voting from parents' home is legal, and election lawyers seem to agree, as long as a person is not, for example, voting more than once. They cite a principle known as "presumption of continuity of domicile" that recognizes multiple residences and a person's long-term connections to a community.

If Vance or another prosecutor, in tandem with the courts, were to suddenly decide otherwise, a legal Pandora's box would blow open.

Take the Village of Saltaire, where dozens of homeowners have maintained dual registrations there and elsewhere. As Newsday reported two years ago, one woman had voted six times in the previous six years in Saltaire village elections and five times in Manhattan elections. That essentially means picking mayors in two different jurisdictions.

Despite criticism that this "zigzag" voting disenfranchises year-round residents, the state village law has been deemed to allow the practice. Not surprisingly, the state Board of Elections, long slammed by good-government groups as a lame watchdog, hasn't taken an active role.

Then there was the bitterly controversial case of John Kennedy O'Hara -- the Brooklyn lawyer who ran afoul of the Kings County Democrats and DA Charles J. Hynes and was notoriously prosecuted in the 1990s for using his girlfriend's apartment as his voting address. Hynes ultimately won a felony conviction in 1999 -- for which supporters of O'Hara still seek a pardon.

When O'Hara was reinstated to the bar a decade later, a Committee on Character and Fitness stated, "The committee has grave doubts that Mr. O'Hara did anything that justified his criminal prosecution . . . Mr. O'Hara, accurately it appears, claims that the [political] machine went gunning for him and pounced on his change of residency, calling it election fraud."

But calls to probe Silver have more to do with the wider political world than with residency rules. For nearly 20 years his speakership has made him one of Albany's ruling troika. His recent approval of a sex-harassment settlement against fellow Assemb. Vito Lopez -- followed by other complainants coming forward -- put him on a public hot seat.

Legislative leaders rarely show well in broad-based polls. That's in part because these lawmakers are elected by a single district. Their positions in the hierarchy depend not on the public, but on the support of their legislative peers -- who in a sense become their real constituents over time.

A former Assembly member pointed out that the timing of the Lopez mess proved fortunate for Silver in terms of the election calendar. Most nominations for this year's 150 Assembly seats were already locked up by the time the storm hit -- perhaps averting public backlash from anxious conference members.

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