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Every once in a while, a set of political arrangements that seemed set in stone simply collapses. The wall dividing Berlin suddenly came down. The Soviet Union fell apart. Syria succumbed to civil war. And today Sheldon Silver, who has been Speaker of the Assembly in New York for twenty years, was arrested on corruption charges.
For as along as I can remember, the state of New York has been run by a condominium. The assembly belonged to the Democrats, and the only assemblyman who mattered was the Speaker. Everyone else was a time-server. He made all of the decisions. The senate belonged to the Republicans, and the only figure who mattered was the Majority Leader. He made all of the decisions.
In New York the third man was the Governor. His election was the only election that mattered. You knew who the Speaker would be; you knew who the Majority Leader would be. The Governor? He could come from either party — and what got done was a carve-up by these three men. Nobody else counted. It was all quite cozy — and it produced a species of gridlock. Everyone had skin in the game. No one wanted to clean things up, and the only question at issue was divvying up the patronage.
A couple of years ago, however, the condominium that ran the state of New York began to come apart. It started in 2008 and early 2009 when Joe Bruno, the Majority Leader in the Senate, suddenly resigned his post and was soon thereafter indicted on eight counts for corruption. He was then convicted on two counts; the conviction was reversed on appeal; and, when he was tried again, he was acquitted. And, in the interim, for a brief time, the Republicans lost control of the senate. Some think Sheldon Silver’s comeuppance is payback.
Be that as it may be, Silver’s indictment is big news. If he was on the take for fifteen or more years — to the tune of $6 million — then we can be confident that everyone else associated with him was also on the take. The government of the state of New York is that sort of polity. If Mr. Big is receiving, everyone else is getting some sort of cut.
This would explain why, in March 2014, Andrew Cuomo, the current Governor of New York, suddenly shut down the Moreland Commission, which he had set up in 2013 — no doubt, in anticipation of a presidential run — ostensibly for the purpose of cleaning up politics in New York. That commission was apparently turning up evidence that impinged on people close to the Governor himself, and it had to go.
It is certainly hard to believe that Sheldon Silver will go gently into that good night. He has too many “friends.” One of them, as it happens, is Mayor of the City of New York. And today Bill de Blasio came out in defense of the Speaker, arguing that he should not be made to resign his office. “Although the charges announced today are certainly very serious,” he said, “I want to note that I’ve always known Shelly Silver to be a man of integrity.”
There are reasons for thinking that Preet Bahrara, the US District Attorney overseeing this case, also has Andrew Cuomo in his sights. Cuomo’s father Mario, who was also Governor of New York, was touted for some years as a possible Democratic presidential nominee. But he never took the plunge — some said, because had Mafia connections. There are those who suspect that Andrew Cuomo is not entirely free of such entanglements himself. There is certainly something fishy about the family.
I cannot help wondering why this explosion is taking place now. Perhaps the story is simple — that Preet Bahrara is an honest and audacious prosecutor and that he stumbled on the evidence. But he does work for Erich Holder, whose aims as Attorney General are consistently partisan. It is hard to believe that Bahrara is proceeding without firm support from above — and there can hardly be any love lost between Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo.
It was not fortuitous that the latter skipped the 2012 Democratic convention. All along he kept his distance from the President. It was as if he was the one independent Democrat — the fellow who figured that the entire Obama enterprise would come apart at the seams and that it would be very useful to have had absolutely nothing to do with it. Barack Obama does not like independent Democrats.
The scandals embroiling Albany, New York are also exceedingly convenient for Obama’s anointed heir Hillary Clinton, former U. S. Senator from the Empire state. Were it not for the scandals in his backyard, Andrew Cuomo would be a Presidential contender.
Think about it. Who else is there of any stature who is not a cadaver? Joe Biden? Governor Moonbeam? Deval Patrick? Martin O’Malley? Lieawatha?
The really interesting question is whether the fall of Sheldon Silver will mean the collapse of the condominium that governs New York and the end of political gridlock. That really would be a revolution.