Greenpoint’s assemblyman is not touching embattled Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver just yet.
Federal agents arrested Silver, a Manhattanite, on Thursday morning on charges he took $6 million in bribes and kickbacks dating back to 2000, seriously loosening the grip he has maintained on the speaker seat since 1994. Lentol, with 42 years under his belt, is Albany’s longest-serving member and has been floated as a possible successor to Silver, but using morbid terms, he said it is too soon to make a move.
“I hate to think about stepping on somebody’s body who is dying before the body is even cold,” said Lentol. “It is not respectful to the man who has served as speaker for 20 years.”
Incidentally, Silver took the speaker position immediately following then-speaker Saul Weprin suffering an incapacitating stroke. Weprin died a few weeks later.
The Assembly’s Democratic Conference has rallied in support of Silver on Thursday, and Mayor DeBlasio went so far as to call him “a man of integrity.” His prediction of imminent death aside, Lentol stopped short of a full-throated defense of Silver, but did not condemn him either.
“We all know full well about the presumption of innocence,” said Lentol. “If we believe in it, then we should believe in it for the speaker.”
Lentol said he would certainly consider taking over the speaker post if Silver decides to step down.
Assemblyman Karim Camara (D–East Flatbush), also mentioned as a possible contender for the position, declined to comment.
The New York Republican State Committee blasted Democrats for circling the wagons around the allegedly dirty pol.
“Assembly Democrats’ continued support for Sheldon Silver in the wake of such outrageous corruption charges is beyond embarrassing. It shames our entire state,” spokesman David Laska said in a statement.
Among Democratic Assembly members, East New York’s Charles Barron was alone in denouncing Silver, calling him a “disgrace,” according to WNYC.
— with Matthew Perlman