State Assemblyman Charles Lavine said he would not call for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s resignation in light of Silver’s arrest Thursday morning on federal corruption charges from alleged kickback payments he received from state projects and a law firm that employed him.
“I’m an old country boy from the Midwest. You don’t switch horses in midstream when you’re in dangerous water, and we’re in dangerous water now,” said Lavine, a Democrat from Glen Cove who is chairman of the state Committee on Ethics and Guidance, in a phone interview.
Silver, a Democrat from Manhattan’s lower east side who is widely regarded as one of the most powerful politicians in the state, was taken into custody on a five-count indictment one day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a $141.6 billion state budget proposal in Albany. He was released on a $200,000 bail.
The longtime speaker told reporters Thursday, “I am confident that when all the issues are aired I will be vindicated.”
In a statement Thursday morning, the state’s Republican party called for Silver’s immediate resignation.
“Assembly Democrats’ continued support for Sheldon Silver in the wake of such outrageous corruption charges is beyond embarrassing: it shames our entire state,” state GOP spokesman David Laska said.
But Lavine said calling for Silver’s resignation would bring about “organizational chaos or structural chaos” within the Assembly at a crucial time in the legislative process.
“We’re beginning the budgetary process and we have an Assembly staff which we depend on tremendously to analyze the proposed budget. We have economic experts and analysts and the last thing we need to do right now is put someone else in charge of the Assembly, in which case we would obviously lose a lot of these people we rely upon to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the budget,” Lavine said. “Now is not the time to do that.”
Efforts to reach state Assembly members Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck) and Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square) for comment on this story were unavailing. Chris Schneider, a spokesman for State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), said the senator declined to comment.
In his time as Assembly speaker, Silver threatened former Gov. Eliot Spitzer with impeachment if he did not immediately resign in wake of a prostitution scandal that ultimately derailed his political career. Silver also removed former Assemblyman Vito Lopez from a committee chair position after Lopez was accused of sexual harassment.
At a news conference Thursday, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Federal Bureau of Investigation officials outlined an alleged $3 million scheme by which Silver issued state grants to a physician who would then refer patients to the personal injury law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, which retained Silver as counsel.
Bharara said Silver also received more than $700,000 in kickback payments from a law firm to whom Silver referred two real estate developers which had business before the state.
“These charges, in our view, go to the very core of a failed Albany,” Bharara told reporters.
The charges against Silver stem from Bharara’s investigation into Cuomo’s abrupt shutdown of a state anti-corruption panel, called the Moreland Commission, last March.
A lengthy New York Times report in mid July alleged that Cuomo and his staff blocked the panel’s efforts to investigate political groups with ties to the governor.
Bharara launched his investigation in April. He later said he would investigate whether Cuomo or his staff obstructed justice or tampered with witnesses in their handling of the commission.
While some have called for the Moreland Commission to be reinstated in wake of Silver’s arrest, Lavine said such a move would likely interfere with Bharara’s investigation, which is ongoing.
“Knee-jerk reactions to serious problems seldom do anything but injure our knees,” he said.