New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is among a handful of the most powerful elected leaders in the state.
Albany is the Greek economy of political dysfunction and wrongheaded decisions. New Yorkers would have more take-home pay, freer lives and a much improved business climate if Albany’s legislators could act more in the people’s interests than their own.
The last few years in Albany produced a conga line of state legislators and other high officials indicted, resigned, censured or led off to jail. Chicago or Boston and their legendary ward politics have nothing on Albany.
Then why am I writing to praise Speaker Silver? Because he stood up and did what very, very few prominent leaders ever do: He apologized for a wrong decision. Potentially that apology won’t block the acid rain that will fall on his head and his office, but at least he did it.
It is a stinging comment on the values and habits of America’s political and corporate leaders that one positive aberration in the national procession of denial and obfuscation rates praise, but it does. Or at least it’s worth making an example of.
This all involves a long-time Assembly power and Brooklyn Democratic party leader, Vito J. Lopez. He continues to reinforce his counterpoint to Silver’s admissions by denying that he sexually harassed at least two women.
This obviously ridiculous defense comes after Lopez nonetheless stepped down as Brooklyn party boss [maintaining a rich if nefarious tradition], was involved in a secret Assembly payment to the victims of $103,000 in taxpayer money [the subject of Silver’s apology] and is the focus Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for his resignation over additional allegations.
“I take full responsibility in not insisting that all cases go to the ethics committee. … While that opinion is both legally correct and ethical and can result in a resolution sought by complaining employees, I now believe it was the wrong one from the perspective of transparency.”
In the future, the Assembly “should not agree to a confidential settlement,” should always refer cases to the ethics committee and “should publicly announce the existence of any settlement, while protecting the identity of the victims.”
Silver has a lot to apologize for — he hid proceedings and guilty payments. On Friday he sent his spokesman out to lie to The New York Times when a reporter asked if the Speaker approved secret settlement payments.
We’ll leave to others the teeth gnashing about politicians entrenched in power for so long that they forget for whom they work. Pundits and editorial writers will no doubt pounce on the arrogance of politicians who think the laws they voted on don’t apply to them.
Nonetheless, Silver deserves credit for taking the heat, admitting what was wrong and apologizing. What effect this has will depend on what transpires next. But my guess would be that Lopez will continue denying wrongdoing, right into private life. And Silver, the wounded old lion, will continue to rule the Albany jungle.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.