By Bob Friedrich
Eight months ago, six civic association leaders under the umbrella of Queens Civics United took a bold step on behalf of the communities they represent. They issued a press release to the media calling for state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) to be relieved of his role.
These civic leaders, who are keyed into the daily concerns of their communities and fierce advocates for their neighborhoods, knew Silver had long tolerated and exacerbated a culture of sleazy and corrupt politics that permeates the state capitol.
This past week, the mainstream media finally caught up with the Queens civics and followed suit. The New York Times, the Daily News and the New York Post, among others, have highlighted Silver’s ethical lapses on their editorial pages. The Times and Post have called for him to step down or be removed from his speakership.
The Assembly speaker wields enormous power, which intimidates even the most seemingly independent legislators. On the other hand, civic leaders who are on the front lines of many battles stand unafraid of such intimidating tactics. These locally-responsive powerhouses often serve as a moral compass tracking the actions of our elected leaders, exerting fundamental checks and balances when these officials veer off-course and begin to lose touch with the communities they represent.
Queens Civics United — a coalition of civic Presidents Robert Holden (Juniper Park Civic Association), Jerry Wind (Bellerose Hillside Civic Association), Frank Toner (Rocky Hill Civic Association), Lourdes Hartrick (Bellerose Commonwealth Civic Association), Angela Augugliaro (Queens Colony Civic Association) and Bob Friedrich (Glen Oaks Village) — put their names and reputations on the line eight months ago when they publicly called for immediate action to address the egregious abuse of power and misappropriation of taxpayer funds by Silver to cover up the Vito Lopez scandal.
These civic leaders said, “While civic and community groups beg for library funds, sidewalk repairs, desperately needed curbs and other community resources, Assembly Speaker Silver secretly spends more than $100,000 of tax dollars to help political pal Lopez keep his sordid affair under wraps and out of the public eye. We are outraged by these actions.”
At that time, not a single elected Assembly Democrat was willing to stand up to the speaker. As if the known details of this scandal were not enough, we now learn from Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, who was selected as special prosecutor to investigate this matter, that this was only the tip of the iceberg.
This cover-up and secret silencing of victims through the payment of “hush money” allowed Lopez to continue to victimize more female staff members. Silver’s cover-ups date back to 2001, when the speaker’s chief counsel, Michael Boxley, was accused of date-raping a young legislative aide. Two years later, a second young woman was assaulted by Boxley, to which he pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct and $500,000 of taxpayer funds authorized by Silver was paid to settle the lawsuit.
The speaker’s actions have clearly nurtured a political culture that more concerned with protecting its members then victimized women.
The speaker must be held to the highest standard. When will our elected officials stand tall with the communities they represent instead of sinking low with the leadership they support? Is it any wonder that Albany and New York City have the distinction of leading the nation in political turnover due to arrest or indictment?
In fact, in the past decade, aside from term limits, most political turnover has come not from the voting booth but from the courthouse. Voters must send a strong message to these morally challenged politicians that the tarnished Silver must be cleaned up.