Northern New York Newspapers
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Sun., May. 3
Serving the community of Ogdensburg, New York

Polishing the Silver

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With Labor Day 2013 a memory, some politicians have returned from summer holidays to Albany to find that the scars of corruption have not disappeared. The Assembly is still there under the control of its speaker, Sheldon Silver, who for more than a year has been drawing all sorts of attention for leadership that has been particularly responsive to the machinations of good old boys networks taking care of each other.

Over the weekend, the Albany Times Union reviewed the last 12 months for Mr. Silver. Here is a list of the highlights:

■ Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s sexual harassment of two women was covered up with hush money approved by Mr. Silver.

■ Mr. Silver and Mr. Lopez now are defending themselves in lawsuits alleging that Mr. Silver enabled Mr. Lopez to hold on to office and continue to force his attentions on women employees.

■ William Rapfogel, husband of a top aide to Mr. Silver, was dismissed by a social services group funded through Mr. Silver’s tight control of Assembly member items after investigators alleged Mr. Rapfogel arranged for insurance contract kickbacks.

■ An Assembly attorney lost his job when it became known that he sat on evidence that a Manhattan Assemblyman had paid unwanted attention to a staff member.

■ Finally, a Siena Poll reports that 40 percent of New Yorkers had an unfavorable view of Mr. Silver, the highest such level of unease in five years.

After a political year with high points like that, holding on to power is usually a challenge. Not so for Mr. Silver.

Just look back to 2000 when Syracuse Assemblyman Michael Bragman attempted to push Mr. Silver out of power. Mr. Bragman failed, and anyone associated with that coup was suddenly without authority, pursuing trivial committee assignments with little hope of accomplishing anything and lower compensation.

During his tenure, Mr. Silver has consolidated power.

He appoints committee chairs. He assigns the staff to write legislation. He decides what bills get to the floor of the Assembly, and members of his caucus certainly know how they are supposed to vote.

Mr. Silver stands in the way of a state government responsive to the economic issues that concern upstaters. He has little use for the dairy industry and its labor needs; he ignores pleas for relaxation of rules preventing exploitation of the natural gas resources of the state; he refuses to budge on eliminating the nation’s only scaffold law, which raises the costs of any project requiring ladders and scaffolds. He is good at raising the minimum wage, more gun control, controlling rents in New York City, raising income and sales taxes, and increasing personnel costs of the state and local governments.

As we enter a political season that will feature the beginning of a gubernatorial election and a state budget designed for political headlines, prepare for another year of scandal, lack of progressive thinking and rumbling frustration with Albany’s inertia as New Yorkers who want to remain residents of the Empire State find jobs harder and harder to land.

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