Controversy once again surrounds Sheldon Silver, the New York Assembly Speaker, following his refusal yesterday to allow a debate on a bill to legalise mixed martial arts in the state.
The bill had passed all the various committee stages required for enaction, as it had done in previous years, and once again all that remained was for it to be put ‘on the floor’ in the State Assembly for the people’s representatives to discuss it.
Silver, as Speaker, is the man who determines which bills are put forward for debate and which are not. When he asked for a show of hands from the representatives in the house, there were - according to a Daily News report - about 25 against the legalisation of MMA and “seemingly… more than 60” in favour.
But Silver declared that it seemed, in his opinion, that an even number of hands had been raised on both sides and that there was therefore no need for the bill to be put forward for a formal debate and vote. When a representative protested that there was a clear majority in favour of voting on the bill, Silver claimed that some representatives had made private statements of opposition to him personally and he was factoring those in.
In other words, Silver appears to have deliberately made an incorrect estimate of the number of hands raised and then when he was called out on it, he has suddenly declared that he was also factoring in the feelings of unidentified representatives who had purportedly expressed their opposition to him in secret. This is an astonishing way for any supposedly democratic body to conduct its business.
Marc Ratner, vice president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, expressed disappointment and also echoed concerns about Silver’s apparent undermining of the democratic process. “I feel 150 per cent, if we had a vote on the floor of the Assembly we would win. Not to get a vote is un-American.”
And it is not the first time that Silver has used this tactic - yesterday was in fact the third consecutive instance. Starting in 2010, Silver has watched the bill fly through committee approval after committee approval then declared, for reasons best known to himself, that the New York State Assembly members have not demonstrated support for it.
Last year the bill reached the same stage as this year, with only Silver standing between it and an open debate on the assembly floor, “There does not appear to be widespread support in the Assembly for this legislation,” Silver said, to widespread incredulity in light of the large number of votes each committee had passed the bills by.
Silver has previous form for decisions that fly in the face of logic and he has been accused of conflicts of interest and vested interests many times in the course of his career as Speaker.
Among them was the issue of his accepting donations from parties associated with Madison Square Garden before lending weight to actions that stopped the development of a venue which, when completed, would have been a rival to the Garden.
He has also been accused, by the Buffalo News and other New York newspapers, of abusing his power in deciding what issues are to be voted on and which will not be. If a bill is not submitted to the Assembly by Silver, it cannot be passed into law and will essentially die in limbo.
Silver has also been the subject of speculation regarding links to the Unite Here union, which has donated money to Assemblyman Bob Reilly in the past. Reilly has always opposed any MMA bill that has been tabled in New York, whilst denying any links to or donations from Unite Here.
The link is significant as Unite Here has a dispute with the Fertitta brothers, UFC co-owners, over labour rights at their Station Casinos chain in Las Vegas. Unite Here, more powerful in New York than it is in Las Vegas, has lobbied against the legalisation of MMA in New York from day one.