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Silver’s downfall

There was a wall of silence in Queens last week following state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s graft indictment as elected officials shrank into the shadows when asked about what his arrest could mean for the borough.

Lawmakers were reluctant to make their views public out of fear the all-powerful Democratic speaker could end up beating the rap, which would leave them in political purdah. But they were also concerned, according to veteran Albany observers, that Silver was vitally needed — at least through the current budget negotiations — to protect the liberal agenda embraced by the Queens delegation.

A meaningful hike in the minimum wage, immigration reform and the Women’s Equality Act, which the Manhattan Democrat has championed, were mentioned as being at risk.

But this week the perceptions changed and Silver’s iron grip on the Assembly was broken as emboldened members pressured him to resign his post as speaker.

Queens, where indictments of state lawmakers have become routine (former Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith is on trial in a federal bribery case and Assemblywoman Bill Scarborough is fighting charges he fiddled with per diem travel expenses), was fed up.

Ridgewood Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, a Silver ally, was floated as a possible successor during the closed-door negotiations in Albany to oust him. Assemblymen Jeffrion Aubrey of Corona and Philip Goldfeder of Ozone Park updated reporters on the talks with Silver, facing federal charges he made $3 million in kickbacks from steering business to a small Manhattan law firm.

Silver had not groomed any heirs to succeed him, which made the dance in Albany to fill his shoes intriguing as the consummate deal maker maneuvered to keep some vestiges of the power he had wielded for 21 years. But Tuesday night his gamesmanship failed and he agreed to step down Monday. A new speaker will be elected Feb. 10

The wiley Silver had kept one eye over his shoulder ever since several Assembly members, including three from Queens, staged a failed coup back in May 2000 because he treated his own membership with so little respect. Queens Village’s Barbara Clark is still in office, but Nettie Mayersohn and Anthony Seminerio have died.

Silver’s banishment as speaker is a godsend. Under his leadership as arguably the most powerful man in Albany, corruption flourished in both houses.

There is real hope in Queens his downfall will eventually end the gridlock in Albany, usher in greater transparency and set the stage for talented lawmakers to reform the nation’s most dysfunctional Legislature.

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