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Doubts over NY Assembly speaker's future continue; Silver aims to hold on amid federal charges

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ALBANY, New York — Control of the state Assembly hung in the balance Monday night as longtime Speaker Sheldon Silver fought to keep his grip on power amid mounting calls for his resignation following federal corruption charges.

Democrats in the Assembly huddled for several hours in the Capitol but left without deciding Silver's fate. They plan to return Tuesday for more closed-door talks in the hopes of ending the intrigue roiling the Capitol that threatens to disrupt the ongoing legislative session.

"Folks have raised real concerns," said Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Rochester, who said he didn't know if Silver would resign.

Silver said Monday night that he expects to be exonerated. He has offered to temporarily cede power to top lawmakers, an idea that hasn't convinced an increasing number of lawmakers who say his continued leadership is a distraction and a black mark. They vowed to push for a vote to replace him if he refused to resign.

Queens Democrat Jeffrion Aubry, a senior member of the chamber's majority conference, said there is growing consensus that the cloud over Silver poses "a great difficulty for him to continue to operate."

Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, was taken into custody Thursday morning by the FBI and was released later in the day on $200,000 bail. He faces five counts, including conspiracy and bribery, charges his attorney has called "meritless," and is accused of using his position to obtain millions of dollars in kickbacks masked as legitimate income.

Silver declined to speculate on his chances of keeping the position he has held for two decades.

"I'm still the speaker," he said. When reporters asked about the chances he would keep his position, he said "I'm not a betting person. I don't deal with chances."

Silver, 70, has led the Democratic majority for 21 years and is considered one of the most powerful politicians in the state. He has the second-longest tenure of any speaker in the United States, and his party holds more than two-thirds of the 150-seat Assembly.

PHOTO: In this Jan. 22, 2015 file photo, New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is transported by federal agents to federal court in New York.  Even after his arrest on federal corruption charges, Silver remains one of the most powerful politicians in New York.(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
In this Jan. 22, 2015 file photo, New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is transported by federal agents to federal court in New York. Even after his arrest on federal corruption charges, Silver remains one of the most powerful politicians in New York.(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

The Assembly balked at Silver's proposal to tap five senior colleagues to temporarily handle his duties: Morelle and Assembly members Herman "Denny" Farrell, of Manhattan; Joseph Lentol, of Brooklyn; Carl Heastie, of the Bronx; and Catherine Nolan, of Queens.

After a briefing earlier on the snowstorm in the Northeast, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo questioned how such an arrangement would work.

"Management by committee, I've never been a fan of," he said.

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin said a 17-member bloc of Democrats from the Hudson Valley and Long Island agrees that Silver should step down. They were not proposing a replacement as speaker, only that Morelle temporarily fill in.

"It's the only thing we have to keep this institution on an even keel. And that's our priority," said Paulin, a legislator for 14 years from Westchester County. "We will be calling on the speaker to step aside so there can be a transition."

Assemblyman Keith Wright, mentioned as a possible contender for speaker, is the highest-profile Democrat to publicly call for Silver's ouster. Wright, of Harlem, is a former chairman of the state's Democratic Party.

"Based upon the extraordinarily disturbing events from last week, revelations and charges that will reverberate for months if not years to come, Sheldon Silver must resign as speaker immediately," Wright said in an email.

The criminal complaint said there was probable cause to believe that Silver obtained about $4 million in payments characterized as attorney referral fees through the corrupt use of his official position as one of the state's most powerful politicians.


Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela in New York City contributed to this report.

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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, center, and Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Rochester, right, walk though the Legislative Office Building on their way to the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, in Albany, N.Y. Silver was fighting to keep his grip on power Monday amid widening calls for his resignation in the wake of federal corruption charges. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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