Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Silver on the rocks; prosecutors querying Speaker's staff (Rapfogel?)

After a brief interim period in which his colleagues agreed to let him step aside but not down, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is on the rocks.The Times reports:
Moving to exile one of New York’s most powerful and long-serving leaders, Democrats in the State Assembly agreed late on Monday to ask Sheldon Silver to step down as speaker in the wake of his arrest last week on federal corruption charges.
The Democrats reached the decision in a closed-door meeting that stretched for hours, rebuffing a bid by Mr. Silver to keep his post by relinquishing some of his responsibilities while he defended himself against the charges.
...Leaving the Capitol just before midnight, Mr. Silver told reporters that he had not told anyone that he was resigning, and that he would meet with his Democratic colleagues on Tuesday.
“I am the speaker,” he said, adding, “I’m standing. And I’m going to be standing for a long time.”
City and State reported:
Multiple Assembly members also said the suggestion of a five-member leadership appointed by Silver was officially off the table and that the Assembly would follow house rules in replacing the speaker. According to those rules, if Silver resigns from his post, the Assembly majority leader, Joe Morelle, will become the acting speaker until a new one is voted on during an Assembly floor meeting.
But no one has agreed on a new speaker.

Comptroller Scott Stringer and then Public Advocate Letitia James were among the officials yesterday urging Silver to resign.

Silver's staff subpoenad

Will any of the investigation point deeper? (Surely federal prosecutors would first target other elected officials, as well as those doing business with the state, first the likes of those named in the investigation, then, with a lesser chance, others, like Forest City.) 

Newsday reports that "Some members of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s staff have been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors, a source said Monday."

Presumably that includes Chief of Staff Judy Rapfogel, wife of Willie Rapfogel, the now-imprisoned leader of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, which partnered with Forest City Ratner on a 
bid to develop the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area and received proceeds from a charitable event. 

They are parents of Forest City Ratner employee Michael Rapfogel whose hiring, the Times reported, was "seen internally as a way to please Mr. Silver."

The legal and the illegal

Law professor Zephyr Teachout, in an essay for the Times yesterday, wrote:
Albany is reeling, but fighting the kind of corruption that plagues not only New York State but the whole nation isn’t just about getting cuffs on the right guy. As with the recent conviction of the former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell for receiving improper gifts and loans, a fixation on plain graft misses the more pernicious poison that has entered our system.
Corruption exists when institutions and officials charged with serving the public serve their own ends. Under current law, campaign contributions are illegal if there is an explicit quid pro quo, and legal if there isn’t. But legal campaign contributions can be as bad as bribes in creating obligations. The corruption that hides in plain sight is the real threat to our democracy.

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