Dozens of Assembly Democrats stood together Thursday to support Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver hours after he was arrested on federal corruption charges.
After meeting for 90 minutes behind closed doors, members of the Assembly’s Democratic conference pledged support for the Manhattan Democrat after federal prosecutors accused him of accepting $6 million from law firms without doing legal work in return.
“I’m continuing to support the speaker and I would say that the members overwhelmingly, in the conversation that we just had, are continuing their support,” said Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, Monroe County. “There is a strong feeling, as I think we should all reflect on, that there is a presumption of innocence. We have every confidence that the speaker is going to fill his role with distinction.”
Democrats currently hold 106 seats in the Assembly’s 150-seat chamber. Silver has held the top role of speaker since 1994, and would become the longest-tenured speaker in history should he continue through 2016.
Morelle, the Assembly’s second-in-command, was flanked by about 30 Assembly Democrats as he backed the speaker. He was first appointed to his post by Silver in 2013.
The Assembly canceled its planned session Thursday, though lawmakers said they expect Silver to return when they come back to Albany on Monday.
Not all Democrats were supportive of the message, however. Assemblyman Charles Barron, D-Brooklyn, told reporters he wasn’t on board with the conference’s message. He doesn’t think Silver should continue as speaker, though Barron didn’t vote for Silver when he was re-elected to his post in December.
“We believe, and I’ve always believed, innocent before proven guilty,” Barron said. “But I didn’t think he should be speaker in the first place.”
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, was not among those who stood with her Democratic colleagues at the Thursday news conference. She said she was “shocked” to hear of Silver’s arrest and that she is “withholding judgement.”
“I know the speaker from his public work, from all the good work protecting the environment, his work on fracking, his work on public education and defending our public schools and teachers,” Lifton said. “I don’t really know anything about his private law practice or anything like that. I think we’re obviously going to get more information in the days ahead and I’ll be able to make a judgment call.”
Several Republicans called on Silver to step down as speaker, including Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, Ontario County, who said Silver stepping down would be “in the best interest of the Assembly.”
Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, D-Ossining, Westchester County, said she’s confident the chamber will continue to function well despite Silver’s arrest.
“We have talented people in leadership positions, committee chairmanships and so on, and we’ve all been involved in the past,” Galef said. “So it’s not any different. We will be totally involved.”