In the face of Sheldon Silver’s arrest on public corruption charges, the Albany establishment — long entrenched in the culture of corruption that Silver typified — has been shaken to its core.
As we speak there are rumblings in Albany that South Buffalo’s Assemblyman Michael Kearns could become the next Speaker of the New York State Assembly.
Kearns has said that he hasn’t ruled out the possibility.
The rumors come shortly after Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas Langworthy, an influential figure in the NYGOP, endorsed the Kearns’ candidacy. Kearns ran for election with the backing of the Democratic, Republican, and Independence parties.
Langworthy is seen as one of the GOP’s up and coming stars, who has built a surprisingly solid and respected Republican Party in one of the state’s most heavily Democrat enrolled counties. He has the clout to get the Assembly GOP behind a Kearns candidacy.
Kearns has another powerful backer: G. Steven Pigeon, one of the State’s most influential political operatives, who is no stranger to plots of equal intrigue. Pigeon has the monied connections that could finance the kind of influence peddling that could secure the office.
Imagine the prospective coalition: anchored by the Assembly Republicans — who would otherwise have no opportunity at the Speakership themselves; joined by a faction of breakaway Upstate Democrats and good government types.
Observers from across the political spectrum say that an Assembly Speaker from Western New York could yield a kind of influence for the region that has been unseen in generations. Everything from tax policies, to infrastructure investments, to economic development programs could be impacted if a Buffalonian is sitting among the Capitol’s three men in a room.
The Republicans are looking for relevance in a body that they have no reasonable chance of taking over themselves, given the State’s demographic makeup and gerrymandered districts. Kearns presents an opportunity for the NYGOP to partner with more moderate Upstate Democrats. The Assemblyman’s middle of the road inclinations, history of bipartisan support, and staunchly anti-Silver posture makes Kearns a perfect torchbearer.
Moderate Democrats are looking for relevance too. They have been shut out of the State’s governing cabal, which has long been anchored firmly in Sheldon Silver’s lower Eastside district. Upstate Democrats get shortchanged on earmarks, district spending, legislative influence, and their policy priorities are often cast aside. It’s the result of downstate indifference toward our region’s economy; an attitude often typified by Silver.
Kearns is known as an honest do-gooder. He’s a different kind of Democrat who is willing to take staunchly anti-establishment stances — like calling for Silver’s resignation for years — at times when no other Assemblyman would. Silver even used his influence to have $160,000 dumped into the campaign of Kearns’ machine-backed opponent three years ago. Kearns defeated the establishment candidate with what he, half jokingly, referred to as his “Irish Republican Army,” which worked an improbable win in his working class South Buffalo neighborhood.
On the Republican line, he defeated a far better financed and machine backed candidate in Chis Fahey, a longtime staffer to Congressman Brian Higgins. Kearns’ landslide victory was in despite of the 2-to-1 enrollment advantage in the Democrats’ favor.
Two years later, he was so popular that no one even bothered to run against him.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been a friend of Upstate Republicans, may have an interest in seeing an Upstate speakership, too. Cuomo wants to distance himself from the leftist “De Blasio wing” of his own party. Taking the kind of Wall Street influence that Silver represented off the proverbial table makes Cuomo more powerful. It means that New York’s elite will have to come to him for favors instead.
Anyway you cut it, a Governor Cuomo would be empowered by a more moderate governing coalition in an Assembly that has long been dominated by fringe special interest groups, in no small part due to Silver himself. Their ability to push unpopular policies only thwarts Cuomo’s ambitions on a national stage.
Cuomo still wants to run for President, and the narrative of ‘bi-partisan coalition builder’ could be central in a presidential campaign, and compliment the centrist working relationship that he has had with Republicans in the State Senate.