New York State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver is under fire over what the local tabloids are calling a “coverup” of sex allegations against a Brooklyn political boss.
The Orthodox Jewish speaker of the State Assembly doesn’t usually get front-page play, despite being one of the two or three most powerful people in Albany. It’s likely he would rather been left out of this story, too.
Last Friday, Silver censured Assemblyman Vito Lopez over charges that he had sexually harassed two Assembly employees. Following reocmendations of the Assembly’s ethics committee, Silver removed Lopez from the chairmanships of two committees and barred him from employed interns or people under 21.
Lopez has since said that he will relinquish his role as Brooklyn Democratic leader.
But Lopez is not the only longtime politico bruised by the scandal. Following the Friday announcement, the New York Times reported that in June, Silver had authorized a $100,000 payment to settle an earlier set of harassment charges against Lopez.
Efforts were made to make that payment secret. The earlier charges were never brought before the Assembly ethics committee.
Silver has apologized for hushing up the payment, but that hasn’t stopped the launch of a new ethics investigation – this time into Silver himself.
Silver, who represents Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the New York State Assembly, is one of the most powerful legislators in Albany. Speaker of the Assembly since 1994, he’s spent nearly two decades as one of the so-called “three men in a room” whose decisions carry the most weight in state government.
He is also a member of the Bialystoker Synagogue, one of the few Orthodox synagogues left on the Lower East Side. Silver is closely tied to the neighborhood’s remaining Jewish power brokers.
In 2008, Silver brushed off a primary challenge from Paul Newell, a young Yiddish-speaking Democratic activist.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.