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Silver's 20 years as Assembly leader: Too much power?

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Albany/HV: Silver's 20 years as Assembly leader: Too much power?
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ALBANY, N.Y. -- Twenty years ago this week, Assembly Speaker Saul Weprin succumbed to a stroke and died. Soon after, assembly members chose Manhattan Democrat Sheldon Silver to succeed him. And five governors later, Sheldon Silver is still in charge of the Assembly and its sprawling Democratic conference.

"As long as I have the support of my colleagues working with them, bringing out consensus in the Assembly I think we've accomplished many great things," Silver said.

Silver has had a profound -- and controversial impact -- on the Capitol over the last three decades. Good government groups have often blamed him for blocking key reforms and has stymied the efforts of governors and New York City mayors alike. And yet, his lieutenants, like Assemblyman Denny Farrell, say that image of Silver isn't accurate.

"The ability to get along with anyone -- Democrat or Republican -- he was always able to get the budgets done that have to be done," said Farrell, a Manhattan Democrat.

Republicans, of course, disagree. They point to Silver's most recent controversy -- the effort to conceal more than $100,000 in settlement money to sexual harassment victims of ex-Assemblyman Vito Lopez -- as a sign that he's abused power.

"All you have to do is look at the decline of New York state over the last two decades and the many who has been there and that's Sheldon Silver," said Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, a Republican.

McLaughlin says Silver is a good example of why there should be term limits for leadership positions in the Assembly like there are in Senate.

"I don't think it's correct for a Republican or a Democrat to serve that long as speaker. It's just too much power concentrated in the hands of one person," he said.

Naturally, Silver disagrees.

I think we have term limits every two years we face election. Members of the Legislature do in both houses and there has been significant turn over," Silver said.

If re-elected next year, Silver would surpass Oswald D. Heck as the longest serving Assembly speaker in the state's history. For now, Silver's allies say that isn't the goal.

I don't know it's one day at a time. But he's healthy, all is going well. I think he can continue to go," Farrell said.

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