WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s approval of a secret $103,000 settlement to resolve a sexual harassment allegation against Assemblyman Vito Lopez isn’t dimming his chances of re-election or weakening his grasp on the Assembly.
Both Lopez and Silver are on the ballot next month. The different probes into the sexual harassment scandal and the outrage expressed over the scandal on op-ed pages or by good government groups doesn't appear to be having any impact on the prospects of either incumbent’s re-election.
As one voter in Silver’s district noted, the scandal could have been worse. "You know what I am happy. It was just a $100,000. It could have been worse," said Johnny Deluxe, a stay at home dad and stand-up comedian.
This November Silver faces 45-year-old Republican Wave Fay Chan, a graduate of Fashion Institute of Technology and a real estate agent. "When I tell people I am running against Sheldon Silver their mouth hits the floor and they say 'Oh my god, God bless you. Finally we have a different voice,’" Chan said.
But if money is any indication, Chan, who aligns himself with the Tea Party, has an uphill climb. He says he has $3,000 in his war chest. State records indicate Speaker Silver has more than $3 million.
The harder hurdle for Chan to overcome, however, may be Silver’s decades of service. Silver's been Speaker of the Assembly since 1994 and has represented the Lower Manhattan district, which includes Chinatown and the Lower Eastside, since 1976. Time has given him strong boosters in the community. Supporters point to Silver’s work to limit the environmental impact from the re-construction of the World Trade Center and the re-building of Borough of Manhattan Community College's Fiterman Hall as tangible examples of his effectiveness.
Speaker Silver has conceded that he made an error in judgment in keeping secret the $100,000 payment to the two women who were allegedly harassed by Lopez. Silver said his decision to keep the payment confidential was driven by his concern for the privacy of the female victims. When further allegations were made, he referred those cases to an Assembly panel.
But he has also tried to get in front of the scandal. He asked for the investigation by the state's new Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
But there have been calls for Silver to step down.
"Sheldon Silver has had a great career in the state but I do believe he is part of that old school mentality of what happens in Albany stays in Albany and it has got to change," State Senator Tony Avella said in a phone interview.
But Baruch College Political Science Professor Doug Muzio says that Silver's actions in the Lopez matter actually re-enforces the loyalty of his Assembly conference.
"That's his job. That's why he is Speaker. He protects his conference and he protects its members and his members elect him Speaker to do exactly that."