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McKinstry: How long can Sheldon Silver stay in power?

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) talks to reporters

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) talks to reporters after a news conference at the Capitol in Albany. (May 15, 2012). Photo Credit: AP

The New York State Senate has a not-so-subtle message for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver: Time’s up.

The Senate passed a bill on Monday that would cap at 12 the number of years that a lawmaker could serve in a leadership post in the legislature.

Although there was no mention of Silver in this internal term-limits proposal, Senate members admit it was an obvious dig at the embattled Manhattan Democrat, who has been at the helm of the Assembly since 1994. GOP rules in the Senate already set an eight-year limit on leadership and committee chairs. But it's not necessarily clear how the years are counted under the power-sharing agreement involving co-leaders Jeff Klein, of the now four-member Independent Democratic Conference, and Dean Skelos, the Rockville Centre Republican, works under the proposal. Do they get full or half credit for sharing? Is co-leader the same as majority leader? Does it mean eight consecutive years or in total?

And does Monday’s bill matter? It’s unlikely the measure will be brought to the floor of the Assembly for a vote. So what was the point except to needle Silver for his botched handling of the sex scandals involving Brooklyn Democrat Vito Lopez that resulted in an investigation that sullied Silver, a six-figure secret settlement for two victims and the eventual resignation of the Brooklyn assemblyman? The two women recently filed a civil suit against Lopez and Silver; they claim Silver and his staff did little to protect them from a culture of harassment.

Despite all of this, few legislators have actually called for Silver's ouster — though there are rumblings that some are frustrated with his tight grip on power.

Certainly, Silver is weakened, but absent another leader that most members could coalesce around, he stays in power.

Unless Silver resigns on his own, it won’t be his Senate GOP rivals who will force him out. Instead, it will be members of his own coalition. And the first one to make a move will have to be an expert in counting heads. A 2000 coup by a Syracuse assemblyman, Michael “What's His Name?” Bragman, ended badly. He was stripped of his power and perks as majority leader, and soon after found himself alone and whistling into the wind. His political career was effectively ended after his attempts to change leadership, which garnered only 20 votes out of 98.

Even Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is punting this one to the Assembly. When asked Tuesday about Silver's leadership during an announcement of Cuomo’s election and campaign finance reform proposals, the governor responded that it has been “an amazingly productive session."

“I leave it to the Assembly to pick a leader,” Cuomo said.

The Assembly has already picked its leader over and over again since the early years of President Bill Clinton’s administration. And for now, its members are standing by him.


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