NEW YORK CITY — Embattled Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was arrested Thursday on federal corruption charges, maintained support in high places when Mayor Bill de Blasio called him a "man of integrity."
The mayor called the allegations against Silver, for which he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each count, "very serious," but asked the public to allow the legal process to take its course.
"Allegations are allegations. Charges are charges. And there has to be a process to determine the outcome," de Blasio said during a brief appearance at City Hall.
"I want to note that I've always known Shelly Silver to be a man of integrity, and he certainly has due process rights."
Silver became the most recent and most high-profile target in a string of corruption arrests over the last few years in which several state legislators were charged with abusing their power for personal gain.
On Wednesday, Silver was sharing the stage with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Albany as the State of the State address was delivered. A rousing round of applause served as an indication of the power Silver has accumulated during his 20 years as speaker.
Silver is accused of pushing Cuomo to shut down the Moreland Commission, which was investigating corruption at the state level, according to court documents.
Cuomo said his arrest was a "bad reflection on government," according to the Daily News.
In a sign of how common corruption charges against state legislators have become, political observers say the news sent shockwaves through the New York's political establishment, not because of what Silver is charged with, but because of the speaker's stature.
"This is one of the most powerful people in Albany charged with graft to line his pockets," said Dick Dadey, executive director of good government group Citizens Union. "It's a sad day but not totally shocking day because this drumbeat of corruption is not new."
Federal prosecutors say Silver ran schemes using two law firms, one specializing in real estate, the other in personal injury law, to collect money for work he did not perform. Silver also allegedly used his position as a legislator to direct grants and tax breaks to those involved in the scheme.
For years, New Yorkers asked "what exactly does Speaker Silver do" to earn his outside income, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a press conference. "He does nothing. Speaker Silver never did any actual legal work."
Silver maintained his innocence outside the federal courthouse where he was released on $200,000 bail.
"I'm happy the issue is coming to air in the legal process," Silver said. "And I'm confident when all the issues are aired, I will be vindicated."
De Blasio was not the only politician to continue to support Silver.
Assembly Democratic Majority Leader Joe Morelle, speaking in Albany, said Silver still had the support of the conference.
"I'm continuing to support the speaker and I would say that the members overwhelmingly, in the conversation we just had, are continuing their support," said Morelle.
"There is a strong feeling, as I think we should reflect on, that there is a presumption of innocence," Morelle added before saying that Silver would "continue to fulfill his role with distinction."
But Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said in a statement that it was "imperative Sheldon Silver step down immediately" as speaker.
"We cannot afford this distraction with the important business before the Assembly and the people of New York State," Kolb added.
Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, said Silver's alleged scheme smacks of old-style machine politics.
"This was designed to maintain the veneer of legality," said Sherrill. "What this is about is the arrogance of power. You get so powerful you think you could get away with anything."
Trevor Kapp and Ben Fractenberg contributed to this story.