Owens: Silver a ‘Mixed Bag’ for Progressives

The executive director of the Working Families Party, Dan Cantor, showed support for Sheldon Silver in an interview with OpenLeft published today, calling attacks from the left on the incumbent Democrat “intellectually shallow and politically naive.”

It’s not a total surprise–Liz notes that the W.F.P. has often lined up with establishment Democrats like Silver, but they have been known to back insurgents as well. Silver is facing two: attorney Luke Henry and community organizer Paul Newell.

Chris Owens, an outspoken voice in local progressive politics and president of the Central Independent Brooklyn Democrats (CBID), said making a clear case either for or against Silver isn’t easy.

“I think he’s been a mixed bag for progressives. I don’t think one can defend him in an unqualified manner and I don‘t think one can’t attack him in an unqualified manner,” Owens just told me. “Every budget cycle, the Assembly is far more responsive than the State Senate.”

Owens added, “One can’t vilify Sheldon Silver from a progressive point of view. They can criticize, but not vilify.”

For many liberals, Owens said, judgment of Silver comes down to substance (good) versus style (bad).

“His greatest weakness has been his maintenance of old-school Albany politics,” Owens said. “It’s a significant one, and one that he should be held accountable for. That needs to go. Now does that mean Sheldon has to go to get that to go? It’s all in his hands.”

UPDATE: Shortly after posting this I got an email from the insurgent campaign of Dan Squadron, which is seeking to unseat fellow Democrat, State Senator Marty Connor. Silver obviously doesn’t figure as largely into this campaign, but the districts do overlap and it there is a similar line being drawn between establishment and progressive Democrats.

Squadron was announcing the “Summer of Accountability: A Difference Between Democrats campaign,” which he hopes will “demonstrate how important it is not just that Democrats take back the State Senate—but that State Senate Democrats are truly innovative, progressive and independent.”

UPDATE II: Part of the resentment towards Silver from progressives might be because, as Democracy for New York City finance chair Lewis Cohen told me, Silver “doesn’t really play ball with the progressives.”

Whether the 32-year incumbent needs or wants to ingratiate himself with a newly formed political club is another topic entirely, but his resistance explains some of the ire. (Cohen called Silver “the embodiment of too much power.”)

Cohen pointed to DFNYC’s May 18 candidates’ forum in the district, which both challengers have said they will attend, while Silver has not responded to the invitation.

“We’ve invited him to events in the past and he does not show,” said Cohen. “He doesn’t really deign it necessarily to ingratiate himself with [progressives].”

I have emailed Silver’s office campaign and will update when I get a response.

UPDATE III: Cohen called to say Silver’s campaign did respond to him, but did not confirm whether he willl attend the event.