This has not been a good week for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Yes, the shoe in the Willie Rapfogel corruption case was bound to drop at some point.
But like the Joint Commission on Public Ethics report going into disturbing detail over the alleged abuse and harassment ex-Assemblyman Vito Lopez doled out on his female legislative aides, the Rapfogel arrest this week and subsequent indictment provides hard evidence and specifics that once again tarnish Silver’s leadership.
The bottom line for some in the Assembly is that A) Silver has been in the speaker’s chair for far too long and B) The alleged bribery and kickback scheme that ensnared Rapfogel, the husband of Silver aide Judy Rapfogel, entered a new phase when the scope of the scandal was revealed.
In a column for City & State this morning, former Assemblyman Michael Benjamin writes that its the Rapfogel scandal — not the twin sexual harassment cases involving his conference members during Silver’s watch –that could spell the end of his tenure, which dates back to 1994.
“Earlier in the year the general consensus was that Silver’s departure would weaken the Assembly,” Benjamin writes. “Today, however, only the staunchest of Silver loyalists cling to that belief. Meanwhile, other members are quietly vetting potential successors. Needless to say, deposing a sitting Speaker midterm is a Herculean feat. Memory of the Bragman coup still haunts members and makes them wary of engaging in any seditious activities. But politics being a survivors’ game, the future does not bode well for Speaker Silver’s longevity.”
Benjamin writes without naming names that there are plenty of ambitious members willing to take Silver’s job.
But mounting a leadership change by putting together the necessary coalition within the fractious Assembly is extremely difficult.
The contours of the Assembly include the not-to-be-ignored Democratic women’s caucus, a bloc that so far has stood behind the speaker in the wake of the Lopez and Kellner harassment cases.
Women in the Assembly have been similarly firm on the issue of the women’s agenda and the measure that is aimed at codifying Roe v. Wade, with the chamber refusing to strip it from the omnibus package.
The Daily News reported today that Judy Rapfogel and Silver knew nothing of the alleged effort to skim insurance payments from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, despite skepticism from mostly Republican officials.
Meanwhile, most of the focus in the political world this summer and fall has been on the New York City elections, while Silver has laid as low as possible.
He can withstand public criticism to a point, but the real test — as it has always been — is whether the growing headaches begin to infect rank-and-file members.
READ MORE IN OUR EXCLUSIVE MORNING ROUND-UP OF NEWS HEADLINES: “Here and Now.”