Because he has gripped the helm of the Assembly for more than 20 years, Speaker Sheldon Silver's new status as federal defendant jolts the Albany legislative process right at the start of a new term.
As this high-stakes criminal case proceeds against the Manhattan Democrat, three themes of political life are bound to resound anew in the Assembly, in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office, and in the State Senate. Remember, going forward, that:
Lawyer-legislators come and go in the public limelight. The perennial question of how some people practice law while they make laws arises anew as U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's high-octane criminal complaint against Silver alleging "millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income earned as a private lawyer."
Decades ago businessman Joseph Bruno -- the longtime Senate majority leader ultimately acquitted last year of corruption charges -- would ask why he was dogged by certain conflict questions when so many attorneys in the legislature were not. If Silver reported fake "referral fees" as alleged, the question becomes what the rest of the state's lawyer-legislators do for their outside income -- and how much they can shield the details through lawyer-client privilege.Real estate rules in New York.It's like oil in Texas. State health care funding figures into the charges -- to which Silver has pleaded not guilty -- but federal officials also note the Assembly's "significant role in regulating the real estate industry."
Just one developer contributed more than $10 million to state political campaigns, including about $200,000 to Silver-controlled committees, officials said. Ties between politicians, including Silver, and real estate players earn new relevance -- given Bharara's effort to link tax breaks and rent regulation to the speaker's income from a real-estate law firm.
Does anyone think Silver was alone if he tapped this industry for personal gain?
Prosecutors are politicians too.The names Thomas Dewey, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie and Eliot Spitzer come to mind when Bharara takes to the speaking circuit -- amid pending investigations. His regular talks about corruption and whistle-blowing range beyond the borders of cases he's brought. He deploys juicy phrases -- such as charging that Silver "illegally monetized" his position. On Friday, he made another speech, bordering on the giddy as he knocked the "three men in a room" concept -- fueling speculation about his own future.