Silver’s Popularity Drops, Lawsuit Filed
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Silver’s Popularity Drops, Lawsuit Filed

A narrow majority of New Yorkers want Sheldon Silver to step down as speaker of the Assembly, according to a Quinnipiac College poll. The bad news came as two women who were aides to former Assemblyman Vito Lopez charged in a lawsuit that Lopez sexually harassed them and Silver failed to properly investigate.

The poll found that 51 percent of the 1,075 New York State voters contacted by the college between May 29 and June 3 said Silver should pack his bags because of the way he handled allegations of sexual harassment against Brooklyn powerhouse Lopez.

Settlements were quietly brokered and the charges were not referred to the Assembly’s ethics committee. Silver has insisted he acted to protect the privacy of the victims, but has since apologized and admitted making mistakes.

More men than women want him to quit: 54 to 23 percent, compared to 48 to 21 percent among women, the poll suggested, while, less surprisingly, Republicans said 57 to 14 percent that the Democrat must go. In his own party, Silver was supported by just 28 percent who want him to stay, while 45 percent of Democrats think his nearly two-decade tenure should end.

More than half of independent voters, 53 percent, surveyed want to give Silver the boot while 21 percent are OK with him. Even in his own base, New York City, 50 percent want him to hit the road.

BusinessWeek reported Friday that Victoria Burhans, 27, and Chloe Rivera, 25, filed their suit in federal court in Manhattan, alleging that “Lopez would not have been able to abuse plaintiffs without the assistance of the speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver.”

Silver, a favorite punching bag of the dailies because of his solid grip on legislation and his refusal to disclose his outside income, has never proven highly popular in Quinnipiac’s polls. From Dec., 2008, to now his approval rating has fallen from 38 to 21 percent, while his disapproval rate climbed from 34 to 54 percent. The latest poll offers the first glimpse of public sentiment on Silver’s handling of the Lopez fiasco.

“The Vito Lopez sex scandal persuades a bare majority of New Yorkers that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver should step aside. A lot of voters say get rid of the pack of them; there should be a legislative house-cleaning,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in a statement.

But it is the Assembly membership who keep him in power, and as yet there appears to be no viable challenge.

“The decision will be made following the election,” said Gerald Benjamin of the State University of New York at New Paltz’s Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach. “The members right now are not going to remove Sheldon Silver.”

The political survival of the speaker, who seems determined to hold onto power indefinitely, will depend on the outcome of next year’s legislative races, Benjamin said. “ The formal process of electing a speaker will happen after the new session, and at that time we’ll see what the circumstances are.”

Benjamin said the fact that Silver is unpopular among voters could embolden challengers. “Members keep their fingers to the wind, and some have made equivocal statements,” he noted. “But removing a sitting speakers is a hard thing to do.”

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