Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) considered Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst)...

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) considered Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) for majority leader. (June 28, 2012) Credit: James Escher

When the New York State Assembly convenes Tuesday, a day before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's State of the State address, Sheldon Silver will almost certainly retain his role as Assembly speaker.

And if Silver -- who has been speaker since 1994 and, in that role, has sole discretion in choosing a majority leader -- is true to tradition, the Manhattan Democrat will pick a second-in-command from upstate to succeed Ron Canestrari of Cohoes, who recently retired.

It's time for a geographical wake-up call.

Perpetuating the upstate-downstate leadership balance, in place since 1978, would reinforce the misguided belief that the suburbs -- notably Long Island and the Hudson Valley, with populations in the millions -- are extensions of New York City.

They aren't. And with large and diverse populations -- economically, politically and racially -- the suburbs include huge chunks of the state electorate, which means they can be swing districts in statewide elections.

Silver should instead consider a strong contender from Long Island: Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst).

Sweeney has served in the Assembly since 1988 and has been an effective advocate for health care, education and veterans affairs. He's been a leader on environmental issues, chairing the Environmental Conservation Committee since 2007.

He's a straight-talking lawmaker with a strong record of getting things done -- a go-to guy in the Assembly and the de facto leader of Long Island's delegation.

Sweeney's experience and legislative gravitas would serve him well in marshaling bills and votes on key issues.

If selected majority leader, his leadership on the environmental committee would be missed, especially as the state navigates the contentious issue of hydrofracking. But Sweeney, respected by colleagues from all over the state, would be an excellent spokesman for the Democrats and a leader on the floor.

The suburbs have far more clout than is being recognized. Silver, with his choice next week, can change that.