- Associated Press - Thursday, January 22, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Top Democratic lawmakers in New York stood by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Thursday after the arrest of the longtime leader threw the Legislature into turmoil.

The criminal charges Silver faces come just two weeks after lawmakers began their 2015 session and Assembly members re-elected the Manhattan Democrat to the position he’s held since 1994.

“We believe he can carry out his duties as speaker,” Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle told reporters following a two-hour closed-door meeting of the chamber’s Democrats. “We’re going to stand with him. … We have faith in the speaker.”

Silver was taken into custody Thursday morning by the FBI. He faces five counts including conspiracy and bribery. He was released later in the day on $200,000 bail.

Morelle said he had not yet read the criminal complaint against Silver but that he doesn’t believe his legal troubles would shake public trust in the Legislature.

“I do not think it’s a distraction,” he said.

Republicans, however, were quick to call for Silver to step down as speaker.

“With this hanging over his head, I don’t think he can carry on,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua. If Silver doesn’t resign, “it certainly will cast a dark cloud over the chamber,” Kolb said.

Thursday’s meeting of the Assembly was canceled. The chamber is next scheduled to meet on Monday.

Along with the Senate majority leader and the governor, the Assembly speaker plays a major role in creating state budgets, laws and policies in a system long criticized in Albany as “three men in a room.” He controls, for example, which lawmakers sit on which committees and decides whether a bill gets a vote.

During a meeting Thursday with the editorial board at the Daily News, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he wanted to “see the facts” before weighing in.

“Obviously it’s bad for the speaker, but it’s also a bad reflection on government, and it adds to the negativity,” he said.

Silver’s arrest comes at a particularly busy time for the Legislature. On Wednesday, Cuomo delivered his State of the State address and released much of his proposed state budget. Lawmakers intend to review Cuomo’s budget over the coming weeks before voting sometime before April 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

“On a day we should be talking about the budget and the State of the State, we are once again talking about ethics and corruption,” said Sen. Andrea Stewart Cousins, D-Yonkers, who leads the Senate Democrats.

Big debates also are expected on charter schools, teacher evaluations, New York City rent laws and efforts to address police misconduct and officer safety.

“This is just a cataclysmic event,” said David Birdsell, dean of the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College. “You have the Democratic leader of the Assembly, he’s amassed enormous power over decades, and now that’s completely gone. It’s going to set off a scramble for leadership in the Assembly and it creates real questions.”

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