ALBANY -- Democrats said Monday Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has lost the confidence of his colleagues after his arrest last week on federal charges and will be asked to step down from a leadership post he's held for 21 years.
But they emerged from a five-hour, closed-door meeting saying there was no consensus on who would succeed Silver, one of the most powerful politicians in New York for the past two decades. Silver (D-Manhattan) has been accused of five counts of bribery and corruption by federal prosecutors.
"There's no support in [the Democratic] conference for him to continue," said Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), who conferences with the Democrats. "It's clear he's lost the confidence of the members."
Silver, 70, wouldn't say whether he'd fight the effort.
"I am the speaker," Silver said just before midnight. "I'm standing. And I'm going to be standing for a long time."
Silver said he will attend Tuesday's Democratic conference.
"I have not told anyone I would resign," he said in response to a reporter's question.
"I intend to be fully exonerated, and that is the message."
Democrats said the mechanics of ousting Silver aren't clear -- if he resigns, he would be replaced immediately by Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle (D-Rochester) -- but members are returning to the Capitol at noon Tuesday to try to take the next step.
"There will be a lot of jockeying between now and tomorrow," Thiele said when Democrats emerged from the meeting.
"He's certainly in the process" of being removed, said Assemb. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach). "He does not have the confidence of an overwhelming majority of members. The question now is how to proceed here. . . . To be able to complete the people's business, we need a new leader soon."
A number of members said they would support Morelle -- in part for continuity. But many in the New York City-dominated chamber would favor someone from the five boroughs. Assemb. Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and Assemb. Keith Wright (D-Manhattan) have been mentioned. Another possible contender, Assemb. Herman "Denny" Farrell (D-Manhattan) voiced support for Morelle, lawmakers said.
After the lengthy meeting, Morelle and others met with Silver to tell him he'd lost the confidence of the membership. No matter the mechanics of the transition, members said Silver is out.
"Yogi Berra said it's not over until it's over, but it looks like the ninth inning," Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) said. He said he had the sense that "inevitable reality set in" that Silver couldn't continue as speaker. He said many expressed sadness during the meeting at their collective conclusion.
"In many cases, he was the one who brought us to the dance," Englebright said. "But there was a sense tonight that the music had stopped."
Morelle said he is working on an "interim arrangement," but he wouldn't say whether Silver told him he would resign. Appointed majority leader by Silver, he was less certain in talking to reporters of Silver's resignation than those who have opposed the speaker.
"My job tonight and my job tomorrow is to continue to work with my colleagues. . . . I've been asked by members to come up with some thoughts tomorrow that they can consider to make sure that the house continues to function. That's very important."
After a private conversation with Silver, he said, "I don't know what the speaker is going to do. I shared with him what the comments were, he has to internalize that and make a decision and I'm sure he will in due time."
If Silver steps down and Morelle becomes speaker, the conference could elect a different speaker afterward.
Assemb. Brian Kavanaugh (D-Manhattan) said, "I think a majority of the members of the Legislature do have the power to remove the speaker if it comes to that. I don't think it's going to come to that."
The decision capped a day filled with impromptu coalitions forming and covert meetings called as lawmakers considered Silver's fate.
As the day grew longer, a chorus of lawmakers called for Silver to step aside as leader and potential rivals tried to line up support. Wright, an influential legislator and ally of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said the "stink of scandal" hung over the chamber.
Silver, 70, who has led the Assembly since 1994, spent most of the day in his ninth-floor suite inside the Legislative Office Building, across the street from the State Capitol. Several floors below him, different factions called spontaneous meetings to get a sense of direction: the Black and Hispanic Caucus and two groups that somewhat formed on the fly Monday -- a suburban caucus and a "reform" caucus.
At midnight Sunday, Silver tried to stem Democrats' waning support for him by proposing to temporarily ceding authority to a five-member committee. But it went over like a lead balloon.
Rank-and-file Democrats said they would reject the idea as unmanageable and "smacking of bossism." Some said it would look as though Silver "was still the man behind the curtain." Others said in hindsight it signaled to other members there was figurative "blood in the water" and that Silver knew he was losing support.
Under that plan, Morelle, Heastie, Farrell, Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) and Codes Chairman Joe Lentol (D-Brooklyn) would have led the chamber.
Cuomo, a Democrat, also criticized the idea, saying he couldn't negotiate issues with a committee.
In one of the strongest statements of the day, Wright said: "Sheldon Silver must resign as speaker immediately.
These times demand a change in leadership in order for the people's work to move forward free of distraction and the stink of scandal. This is not the time for committees of five to serve as the alternative speaker or the delegates of the speaker. This is a time for the speaker to resign his post -- it is the only appropriate thing to do."
Also in the building, a coalition of 17 Long Island and Hudson Valley legislators huddled. They agreed the "five-headed monster" was unacceptable.
"He must step aside at this point and let someone else take charge," said Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) after the meeting, which lasted more than an hour. She would like Morelle to take the helm, at least in the interim.
Silver didn't respond to any of the public statements.