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Zaino: If Sheldon Silver doesn't step aside at convention, Democrats should insist

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

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has served as the ceremonial head of the New York State delegation at every Democratic National Convention since 1996, and he's scheduled to act in this capacity once again in this week in Charlotte, N.C. Given his admitted role in payouts regarding the sexual harassment allegations against Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn), however, Silver should not be given this honor.

He should spare the state and his party embarrassment by stepping aside and giving this role to someone else -- ideally one of New York's many prominent female politicians.

Unfortunately, he's unlikely to step aside voluntarily.

If he doesn't, Democrats from across the state, especially our most prominent female politicos, should insist on it. This includes Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester-Rockland) and, most important, Caroline Kennedy -- who not only serves as co-chairwoman of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, but is scheduled to speak at the convention.

Democrats have spent most of this presidential election year accusing Republicans of being anti-women. They shouldn't be allowed to engage in what appears to be a double standard. If Lopez and Silver were Republicans, they would have been called to the carpet by the Dems for their alleged misbehavior: Lopez for what many of his colleagues agree are serious charges of sexual harassment against employees, including inappropriate comments and unwanted advances; Silver for authorizing a secret state payment to alleged victims.

The fact that both remain in office should be addressed in the long term. But for right now, Silver shouldn't represent the great state of New York in Charlotte.

And Democrats shouldn't just quietly ask him to consider stepping down, in hushed tones driven by fear of political reprisal if he actually survives this firestorm. Instead, they should join together and demand it.

Kennedy is well-positioned to lead this charge, not only because she is a well-known New Yorker, but because as co-chairwoman of the president's re-election campaign, she is playing a lead role in the party gathering. Her speaking slot at the convention is part of the Obama campaign's attempt to solidify its support with female voters.

Kennedy has a history with Lopez. In late 2008, when she was trying to gain support to be appointed to the U.S. Senate from New York, Kennedy had lunch with Lopez, and shortly after their meeting, he endorsed her appointment.

That appointment never materialized for a variety of reasons, but Kennedy shouldn't be faulted for seeking Lopez's support -- he has been a kingmaker in Democratic state politics for decades. But given what we now know about the allegations against him, and Silver's role in handling the claims by former female staff members, Kennedy should stand up and demand Silver hand over his role at the convention.

This is the kind of gutsy act Kennedy has so often spoken about when honoring politicians from across the country with a "Profile in Courage" award, and it's one she should lead on behalf of New Yorkers and women nationwide.

Jeanne Zaino is interim dean of the School of Arts & Science and a professor of political science at Iona College.