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O'Reilly: Needed: a staff revolt in Albany

Members of the New York state Assembly hold

Members of the New York state Assembly hold a session at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. Credit: AP, 2011

Now that the Legislature has returned to Albany, I want to make sure I have this straight.

The speaker of the New York State Assembly is staying. No one has the razzles to challenge the man for his leadership spot, so we're going back to business as usual.

Is that what's been decided?

Because if it is, it's pathetic.

It's hard to say what's worse, Shelly Silver arranging hush money payouts to sex abuse victims, or the eunuch parade on display in the hallways of Albany. With the exception of a handful of brave souls, almost no one in the State Assembly -- man or woman, Democrat or Republican -- has lifted a finger to buck the speaker. They showed themselves to be no braver than prison punks trading dignity for scraps.

The excuse? Silver isn't going down anyway, so why should I put my neck on the line?

Now there's a lesson for the kids. Tell 'em about Nathan Hale, Rosa Parks -- and that.

And how about former Silver staffer Michael Boxley? He's got to be Winner of the Month in Albany. Twice accused of raping young female staffers (one accuser was given a government check from Silver to keep quiet), Boxley copped a plea to sexual misconduct. What Siberian outpost did he crawl to in shame after that? None at all. He's back in Albany as a principal at a leading lobbying firm. In his new role, Boxley will be charming elected officials and their staffs for a living.

Does anyone think Brown & Weinraub would have hired Boxley if doors would be shut in his face? Not a chance. He'll be welcomed right in because he still has the speaker's ear.

Can you imagine how that makes his victims feel?

State government is the perfect industry for letches like Boxley and disgraced Assemb. Vito Lopez -- as good as the clergy is for pedophiles. It's a business baked in secrecy that delivers a never ending stream of pretty, doe-eyed believers through its doors. The first thing all staffers -- male and female -- are taught is this: Keep your mouth shut and you can go places; talk out of school and you're done. That code is designed to protect political information, but, peripherally, it extends to everything.

That's why Boxley is still welcome in Albany when the women who accused him of crimes are not. He may be a sex predator, but he's a trusted one. He can keep his mouth shut. His accusers are no longer trusted because they ratted.

This is the system that produces the laws the rest of us have to follow.

It's easy for Albany insiders to throw up their hands and kvetch "what can I do?" but it's a cop out. The State Capitol is overrun with savvy political minds who can find ways to pry Silver out of his leadership post and send Boxley back to the slime pit whence he came.

A few ideas for those staffers and legislators inclined to regain their dignity:

* Hang a sign on your office door today reading, "Michael Boxley Unwelcome Here!"

* Organize a staff strike if your legislator refuses.

* Boycott Assembly sessions to deny that body a quorum.

* Call Boxley's bosses 100 times a day and hang up.

* Use guerrilla campaign tactics to foment an intern revolt. (I guarantee you'll get statewide news coverage.)

Throughout history, brave Americans have acted when faced with injustice, regardless of the consequences. Indeed, it's the near futility of the protest that makes the leader.

Civil rights activists, invoked with nauseating frequency in Albany political speeches, put their lives at risk for principles. They didn't ask the odds of success; they saw something morally wrong and did something about it.

Sexual abuse and its cover-up is being condoned in Albany every day that Silver remains speaker and Boxley remains a viable lobbyist. It is morally wrong.

What is your legislator doing about it?

Demand to know.

William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.