In the comments people have been asking for a post on the arrest of Sheldon Silver, the majority leader of the New York State Assembly. I’m not an expert on the politics of our legislative body–only reporters who have covered that corrupt sinkhole for decades really know the ins and outs. But here are the basics.
Even though New York is a very blue state, due to a combination of gerrymandering and incumbency, we still have a Senate that is effectively run by Republicans. They’re New York Republicans, which would pass for a moderate Democrat in most places, but they still have an (R) after their name. For the past few years, the Senate has been technically majority Democrat, but a few Democrats defected. (Details here.) This session, it’s actual Republicans, due to the 2014 election disaster.
Since the Assembly has been majority Democrat for decades, this sets up the need for compromise to get anything done. Traditionally, this compromise has been hammered out by “Three Men in a Room”, which sounds like a mediocre sitcom, but is really the Governor, Assembly Majority Leader (Shelly) and the Senate Majority Leader. Since the legislature also has earmarks (called “Member Items”), suffice it to say that this compromise involves a great deal of palm greasing and back scratching. The Times has a good piece on this today.
So we have a situation ripe for bribery, and I’m sure Shelly received what would appear to the layman to be bribes. However, we need to look at the case of Shelly’s former counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, for an example of why Shelly thought he could get away with his bribery. Bruno took in millions of dollars in his “consulting” business while he was Leader. He was indicted, tried and convicted for bribery. He appealed that conviction to the Supreme Court and it was overturned based on the vagueness of the law. Then, he was indicted again, and a jury found him not guilty. Then New York State was forced to pay his $2.5 million legal bill.
Shelly is smarter than Bruno, so I’m sure that the bribes he received are even less clear-cut. So when Shelly tells us that he’ll beat this rap, this isn’t the usual bullshit you hear from a politician caught being bribed. He’s also saying that he’s not resigning, and his second in charge, weasel Joe Morelle from Rochester, is standing by him. I can only imagine the bags of cash that are swirling around the Assembly today as different factions push their favorite made man to be Shelly’s successor, but I wouldn’t bet against him.