By Steve Arthur, Vice President
Earlier this week, my colleague Connie Campanella provided some advice on what you need to be asking your New York lobbyist in light of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest over the weekend.
After an effort by Speaker Silver to hold on to power, his Democratic Caucus made it clear it was time for new leadership. However, given the grip he has had on power for so long in Albany, questions continue to be asked whether he can maintain some control over the Assembly. Despite an initial willingness to share power while the Speaker resolved his legal issues, most of the Caucus seems very ready to move on.
As New York Daily News columnist Bill Hammond describes, the Assembly is not only ready for a new Speaker, but a new style of leadership as well. As those who have worked the New York Assembly know, the Speaker has had absolute control over what happens there. Hammond argues that the Assembly needs to insist on changes to spread power out to the members themselves and he calls for term limits for future Speakers of no more than three terms.
This is consistent with what we are hearing from some of the lobbying corps in New York. As one Albany insider described to me, “the chorus of members calling most publicly for his ouster after the weekend (were) calling as much for an overhaul of Shelly’s system as they were for his stepping down.” As Hammond described and lobbyists will tell you, Speaker Silver made life miserable for anyone who crossed him. As one Albany lobbyist described it, “even the more senior members ultimately had little if any control over the fate of their bills or bills that went through their committees.”
While even casual Albany watchers were well aware of the power Speaker Silver wielded, I’m not sure everyone was aware of the resentment that had been building among the rank and file Assembly members. As someone whose views I respect told me, “No new Speaker will be able to revert to the Silver Style, such as it is/was.” One of the most telling quotes about Speaker Silver’s style came from a lobbyist who observed that Assembly members would sometimes ask him – a lobbyist – for help in getting a meeting with a staffer in the Speaker’s office. That is a management style that is surely going to breed resentment.
Assembly members are ready for a change, and as a result, this is likely to be a very contentious year. First, while Speaker Silver is finished, those members and staff closest to him may not want to give up the power to which they have become accustomed. So it is likely to be a messy few months as a new Speaker is installed and new rules are hashed out to better define the Speaker’s powers.
That likely instability just reinforces the point made in Connie’s blog about lobbyists that relied solely on the relationship with “Shelly” versus those who made the effort to build out their relationships. For example, the Retail Council of New York State, with which I have worked for our clients, has worked diligently to maintain and build relationships with a wide array of Assembly members. In a post-Shelly Assembly, they and others like them will have a head start in promoting their agenda under a new leadership structure, whatever that structure might be. This highlights the importance once again, of supporting your industry’s trade associations in the states: an argument I originally made in a post in 2012.
Two weeks ago most government affairs planning was based on the assumption that Speaker Silver was going to be around for a long time. That just proves that we can never become complacent and must always be ready with alternatives if we are to be successful. With four Speakers in the last year facing legal trouble, please consider using this latest event to prompt your lobbyists to be well prepared and to prepare you for the unexpected.