- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Democrats in the state Assembly are expected to call Tuesday for replacing their powerful longtime leader, Speaker Sheldon Silver, after he was charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks over a decade.

The Democratic lawmakers, who have a two-thirds majority and control of the chamber, scheduled more closed-door talks Tuesday on whether they want to retain Silver as their leader. They deliberated for five hours Monday night.

An increasing number of lawmakers said the 70-year-old Manhattan Democrat must step down after his arrest last week. He was taken into custody Thursday on federal charges he took nearly $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks, but he insists he is innocent and expects to be exonerated.

“There is a strong sense among members it would be best for the speaker to step down and for this body to elect a new speaker,” Assembly member Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, said Tuesday. “There is a lot of hard work ahead to move ahead and unite the body behind a new speaker who can best represent the entire state, champion reforms, and restore confidence in the Assembly.”

She noted that the chamber and Silver have been instrumental in raising New York’s minimum wage, legalizing same-sex marriage, funding prekindergarten and other liberal measures.

Assemblyman David Buchwald, a Westchester Democrat, said Silver stepping down would be in the best interest of New Yorkers, considering the serious charges and “his refusal to provide any substantive response to those charges.” He said maintaining ethics in government is a principle they shouldn’t compromise.

Silver, who has been speaker for 21 years, faces five counts, including conspiracy and bribery, and is accused of using his position to obtain millions of dollars in kickbacks masked as legitimate income from two law firms.

On Sunday, Silver proposed letting five senior legislators temporarily take over the speaker’s duties while he kept the post and fought the federal charges.

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin said a 17-member bloc of Democrats from the Hudson Valley and Long Island decided Monday that Silver’s proposal was unworkable and agreed he should step down.

Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem — mentioned as a possible contender for speaker — was the highest-profile Democrat to publicly call for Silver’s ouster on Monday.

There was no clear immediate consensus for Silver’s replacement.

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