A Political Earthquake In New York

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer Linked To Prostitution Ring

Sheldon Silver, who has been Speaker of the New York State Assembly for the past two decades, was arrested today on charges that he took millions in bribes and kickbacks. Yglesias highlights how Silver is “probably the single most important person in the past generation of New York politics”:

The saying in Albany is that decisions are made not by the voters or the legislature, but by “three men in a room” — the governor, the Speaker, and the leader of the New York State Senate. Over the past twenty years, governors and Senate leaders have come and gone but Silver has always been one of those three men in the room.

As such, he’s had a role in every major policy shift in the state. He’s also been the key defender of the institutional status quo in Albany, a status quo that is generally regarded as bathed in corruption and conflicts of interest. Discussions of state government in New York inevitably lead to invocations of the phrase “the mess in Albany” and Silver is, in a sense, the personification of that mess.

Jazz Shaw’s jaw drops:

The details of these “substantial” payments – which Silver somehow forgot to report – are not provided, and as far as I’m concerned, aren’t really important. That’s not the shocking part of this story. The truly amazing part is that anyone in New York was willing to cooperate with the Feds and actually make a move against him.

For those of you in other parts of the country and the world, Sheldon Silver has been the Speaker since before some of our younger readers were born. He is a legend in New York, and has long been acknowledged as the most powerful person in the state’s Democrat machine. Rumors have swirled for years about some of his more questionable dealings, but honestly there were few who ever thought that anyone could lay a finger on him. Nothing gets done in Empire State government dealings without Silver’s say so.

He tries to put the case in context:

So how does this apply on the national level? New York may be home to one of the oldest and most corrupt political machines in the nation, but it’s hardly unique. The real power in the U.S. does not reside in Washington, as we have seen over and over again. The state and local governments are where the policies which shape day to day life for citizens and businesses are crafted. And many of them have shady political dynasties holding on to power by any means possible, with plenty of money changing hands, frequently involving powerful unions and Democrat supporters. If you want to see change, that’s where it starts. And if Sheldon Silver can be taken down, then nearly anything is possible.

Ben Smith marvels at the federal prosecutor of the case, Preet Bharara, noting that the rising star has now “blown up his own political party”:

His frontal assault on the open secrets of New York political power has been a genuine shock to the state’s politics and even to its press, who missed the secret payments that appear to be at the heart of the reported Silver indictment. The process began last year, when Andrew Cuomo cut a particularly crude variety of the deal on which most statehouses operate: He shut down an ethics investigation into the state legislature in exchange for legislative support for his policies. His gambit became the subject of an excellent Times investigation — and then, to everyone’s surprise, Bharara essentially reversed Cuomo’s move, using his expansive power to seize the evidence Cuomo’s Moreland Commission had gathered and turn it over to his own investigators. …

Bharara was, briefly, among the figures mentioned last fall for another top job, attorney general of the United States, replacing a loyalist who served as President Obama’s “heat shield.” Obama went instead with the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta Lynch, a well-regarded prosecutor who has not shown the same eagerness to indict prominent Democrats. Bharara, with two more years in office, is that particularly dangerous and rare political figure: a federal prosecutor who doesn’t give a fuck.

(Photo: Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver walks in front of the State Capitol on March 12, 2008 in Albany, New York. By Daniel Barry/Getty Images)