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McKinstry: Sheldon Silver in New York Republicans' crosshairs

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver shakes

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver shakes hands with supporters during the New York State Democratic delegation breakfast at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. (Sept. 4, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Republicans are wasting little time criticizing Democrats about the sexual harassment scandal in the State Assembly stemming from alleged misconduct of Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn). But the GOP’s top target isn’t Lopez; it’s Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).

Silver acknowledged mistakes were made in a secretive process that included a $135,000 settlement with two former Lopez staff members who accused the Brooklyn party leader of lewd behavior. Silver has unsuccessfully called on Lopez to resign. And now Republicans are calling for Silver to step down. But the greater issue is more important than partisan politics.

The scandal is another blemish on Albany’s pocked complexion. This incident is a reminder of Albany’s scandal-prone and secretive culture, but with added layers: It spotlights the lack of women in power at the state Capitol and the old-boy network that remains strong.

In addition, the controversy is yet another reminder that it is election season. So, with two months to go before Nov. 6, count on calls for Lopez to resign to get even louder.

On Tuesday morning, Republicans from the Hudson Valley and beyond — including Assembly members Steve Katz of Yorktown and Claudia Tenney of New Hartford and congressional candidate Joe Carvin of Rye — called on Silver to step down from his powerful role leading the Assembly majority.

Katz said Silver’s “moral myopia” is an “insult to every levelheaded voter, regardless of gender.”

He even compared the Assembly speaker to the late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno for covering up the mess and approving what he called “hush money” to the women, who have not been officially identified.

Hours later, Bob Cohen, a Republican vying for State Senate in the Sound Shore area of

Westchester, also missed the mark in a political email blast that called out his opponent in the race, Assemb. George Latimer (D-Rye), for being “silent” on the matter.

Latimer, meanwhile, called on Lopez to resign after he said it was clear there was substance to the allegations of sexual harassment based on Silver’s stripping Lopez of his post as Assembly Housing Committee chairman. Latimer reiterated that point on Tuesday and said it was important for an investigation to be completed. He called Cohen’s email statements the “usual partisan rush to judgment.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Republican Party chairman Edward Cox joined the GOP chorus of those seeking Silver's resignation.

Meanwhile, the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, led by Westchester County

District Attorney Janet DiFiore, is investigating the matter and should eventually have something to say about it. On Tuesday, the commission held a closed-door meeting that was adjourned with no statement from the panel.

Personally, I think Lopez should resign. Silver, at the very least, certainly has some explaining to do.

Albany lawmakers have plenty of work ahead, and the heads of the respective chambers must make it clear that this sort of behavior won’t be tolerated.