Silver keeps role at convention despite scandal

September 3, 2012 Associated Press
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ALBANY (AP) — Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, undaunted by a scandal back home, will again have the honor of announcing that New York’s Democratic delegates are endorsing Barack Obama for president during the Democratic convention.

A spokesman confirmed Monday that Silver will continue his high-profile duties at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. The schedule for Silver, who is orthodox Jewish, includes playing host of a dinner for delegates at a kosher restaurant.

Meanwhile, back in Albany, the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics is expected to take up a sexual harassment case in the Assembly beginning Tuesday in a special meeting.

Silver has said he welcomes the inquiry, which involves accusations against Assemblyman Vito Lopez. Silver mediated a secret settlement with two of Lopez’s accusers in June at the accusers’ request. The ethics commission may decide to include a look at Silver’s role as it investigates Lopez.

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Silver says he won’t authorize any more settlements outside the ethics committee process, saying it conflicts with the need for transparent government.

“The worst is over for Speaker Silver,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a national political adviser who worked in the Clinton White House. “The fact is, the speaker did not act alone. All his actions were known to the comptroller and the attorney general.”

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said they didn’t personally know of the settlement and staff attorneys had only cursory involvement, although emails released Friday show the lawyers didn’t try to stop or question the $103,000 to settle claims against Lopez.

One of the attorneys for the women, however, has blasted Silver saying the settlement was not intended to protect Lopez from a formal investigation. A confidentiality clause in drafts of the settlement, which still hasn’t been released publicly, states the accusers can’t talk about Lopez and that the longtime, powerful Brooklyn Democratic leader admitted no guilt.

Additional sexual harassment claims against Lopez were reported in July and the Assembly ethics committee censured him in August. Silver then stripped Lopez of his leadership position and stipend. Only a felony or expulsion by legislators can remove a lawmaker, and Lopez insists he never sexually harassed anyone.

Silver, 68, is one of the longest serving legislative leader in New York history and in August won the William M. Bulger Excellence in State Leadership Award from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Meanwhile, the leader of New York’s Democratic Party, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is following through on his plan to keep a low profile at the convention, or as low a profile can be for a potential 2016 presidential candidate. The first-term governor, who has political supporters nationwide, plans to arrive in time for Obama’s acceptance of the nomination and leave soon after.

“Gov. Cuomo is acting very smartly,” Sheinkopf said Monday. “He has an extraordinary record of accomplishment, but he is trying not to step on the parade of the president or of President Clinton.”

“He’s cutting his own path,” Sheinkopf said, comparing Cuomo’s decision to greater convention roles of potential rivals including Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Cuomo’s father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, made a historic speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. That speech ended up dogging Mario Cuomo throughout his terms as governor as speculation of presidential aspirations led to questions about his public actions as governor, making politically difficult decisions even harder.

UPDATED 9.3.12 2 PM with more infomation.

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