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Going against one of his own, one northeast Queens Democrat called on state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) to step down in the wake of a heated scandal.
In a statement, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said Silver no longer belonged in Albany as the speaker faced accusations of his handling of taxpayer dollars amid sexual harassment claims involving Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn).
“The culture in Albany of ‘what happens in Albany stays in Albany’ has to stop,” Avella said. “Assembly member Silver has had a great career serving our state, but he is now seen as the classic example of the dysfunction and backroom deals that has plagued Albany for decades.”
Last month, Lopez was censured after a bipartisan Assembly Ethics Committee concluded that there was strong evidence that he had sexually harassed two employees. He is the target of two investigations and several lawmakers have called on him to resign.
Avella said it was Silver’s approval of a $103,080 settlement to confidentially end the harassment claims that made him no longer suitable for public office. Meanwhile, Assembly Democrats have largely stood behind the speaker.
Silver declined to comment on the senator’s remarks, but has publicly said he would cooperate fully with any ethic inquiries.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics has been investigating the Lopez scandal but has been unwilling to dig any deeper into Silver’s actions, Avella said. The senator introduced new legislation this month to reform the independent commission after failing what he called its first real test.
The legislation, Avella said, would give the commission authority to investigate legislators and staff while reducing the panel’s membership from 14 to five.
“The culture of corruption in Albany will not and cannot change without a truly independent ethics commission,” Avella said. “While JCOPE was a good start, it is clear from recent events that it has neither the authority nor the backbone to go after the very people they are charged with investigating. That is simply unacceptable and the reason why my legislation is necessary.”
On the local level, civic leaders in northeast Queens also called on Silver’s resignation, including Bob Friedrich, the Glen Oaks Village president.
“We urge Assembly Speaker Silver to do the right thing and step down from his post,” said a letter signed by six Queens civic leaders, including Friedrich. “If he refuses to do so, we demand that he be removed as speaker by the Democratic Assembly delegation. Elected officials should not have to be reminded that their allegiance is to their constituents, not the Assembly speaker.”
Avella said Silver, who has served as speaker for 18 years, has enjoyed a lengthy and largely successful career in politics, but has become an “inherent, almost omnipotent power” and should be limited.
Earlier this month, the senator renewed a campaign promise by pushing for tougher laws on term limits in government. The bill, Avella said, would institute a maximum of 16 years of service for state legislators.
“If ever there was a time for change, it is now,” Avella said.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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