Sheldon Silver

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The Honorable
Sheldon Silver
SpeakerSilver.jpg
119th Speaker of the New York State Assembly
In office
February 11, 1994 – February 2, 2015
Governor Mario Cuomo
George Pataki
Eliot Spitzer
David Paterson
Andrew Cuomo
Preceded by Saul Weprin
Succeeded by Carl Heastie
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the 65th district
In office
2013–2015
Preceded by Micah Kellner
Succeeded by Vacant
Constituency Lower Manhattan, New York City
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the 64th district
In office
2003–2012
Preceded by Richard N. Gottfried
Succeeded by Nicole Malliotakis
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the 62nd district
In office
1983–2002
Preceded by Paul M. Viggiano
Succeeded by Robert Straniere
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the 63rd district
In office
1977–1982
Preceded by Anthony G. DiFalco
Succeeded by Steven Sanders
Personal details
Born (1944-02-13) February 13, 1944 (age 72)
Lower East Side, New York City
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Rosa Mandelkern
Residence Lower East Side, New York City
Alma mater Yeshiva University (B.A.)
Brooklyn Law School (J.D.)
Religion Orthodox Judaism
Website Assembly Website

Sheldon "Shelly" Silver (born February 13, 1944) is an American lawyer and Democratic Party politician from New York, who rose to become Speaker of the New York State Assembly in 1994. On January 30, 2015, eight days after his arrest on federal corruption charges, Silver submitted his resignation as Speaker, effective February 2, in order to defend himself against the charges. On November 30, Silver was found guilty on all counts and was removed by law from his position as a member of the Assembly.

Early life[edit]

An Orthodox Jew whose parents were Russian immigrants, Silver has lived all his life on Manhattan's Lower East Side. He graduated from the Rabbi Jacob Joseph High School on Manhattan's Henry Street, where he was captain of the basketball team.[1] Silver graduated from Yeshiva University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1965, and received his J.D. from Brooklyn Law School in 1968.[2]

Law career[edit]

He practiced law with the firm of Schecter and Schwartz from 1968 until 1971, and then served as law secretary for Civil Court Judge Francis N. Pecora from 1971 to 1976. In addition to Silver's duties in the State Assembly, he has been an "of counsel" member of Weitz & Luxenberg, one of the state's largest personal-injury litigation firms.[3] For years, Weitz & Luxenberg insisted that Silver's ties with the firm were negligible. In 2007, the New York Post charged that Silver's refusal to disclose the details of his employment, or the income he received, raised suspicions of a conflict of interest.[4] This income ultimately led to his arrest and resignation as Speaker.

Political career[edit]

Elections[edit]

He was first elected to the Assembly in 1976 and rose to key committee leadership positions. He represented the Assembly District variously numbered as 62nd through 65th, comprising much of Lower Manhattan, notably Wall Street and the former World Trade Center site.

During the election years of his speakership, 1994–2014, Silver's district typically re-elected him with 80–90 percent of the vote.[citation needed] In 2008, he had his first Democratic primary challenge in over two decades, winning 69 percent, or 7,037 votes, to defeat his challengers, Paul Newell who earned 22 percent (2,401 votes) and Luke Henry 9 percent (891). (Newell was a 10-year resident of the area, and Henry a recent transplant from the West Village.)[5] Silver was re-elected on November 4 with 27,632 votes. His Republican challenger, Danniel Maio, received 7,387 votes.[6]

Speaker of New York State Assembly[edit]

On February 11, 1994, after Saul Weprin died from a stroke, Silver became the Speaker of the New York State Assembly. He was re-elected 11 times.

Death penalty[edit]

As Speaker, Silver was instrumental in the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York State in 1995. The legislation was ruled unconstitutional by the New York Court of Appeals in 2004 (see People v. LaValle), as the law stipulated that if jurors were deadlocked between sentences of life without parole and execution, the court would sentence the defendant to life imprisonment with parole eligibility after serving 20 to 25 years. The Court ruled that in such a case, execution would seem unfairly preferable to the jury. New York's crime rate had dropped significantly in the decade since the law was passed, without seeing a single execution, and Silver let the law expire without much debate.[7] In December 2005, after two New York City police officers were killed in as many months, Governor George Pataki called for another reinstatement of the death penalty. The New York Times quoted Silver's spokesman Charles Carrier as saying, "He no longer supports it because Assembly hearings have shown it is not the most effective way to improve public safety."[8]

Rent control[edit]

In 1997 and throughout his Assembly career, Silver was a key advocate of state-administered rent regulation of New York apartments. This complex and highly politicized system made the Speaker a central figure, continually courted by major participants in the real-estate industry.[9]

Commuter tax[edit]

In 1999, Silver was instrumental in the repeal of New York City's commuter tax, which taxed non-resident workers similarly to city residents. The repeal was a great benefit to those commuting to work in the city from surrounding areas, but came at a substantial cost to New York City residents. Silver was criticized by city leaders for removing the tax, and though after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks he suggested he would support reinstating it,[10] he took no steps to do so.

Attempted coup and criticism[edit]

In 2000, Silver faced an attempted "coup" in the Assembly as members, primarily from Upstate New York and dissatisfied with his leadership style, tried to overthrow him as Speaker. Michael Bragman, the leader of the backlash, lost his position as majority leader. An editorial in The Buffalo News, written in response, criticized Silver for having too much power:

The problem—which also exists in the State Senate—can be boiled down to a single overarching issue: The Assembly speaker has too much power. He controls everything, from the legislation that can be voted on to how his normally docile members vote on it. He decides what the Assembly will accept in a state budget. He negotiates secretly with the other two leaders to hammer out important, expensive and far-reaching laws. And he ignores the wishes of less-exalted lawmakers.[11]

Similar criticisms of New York State's "three men in a room" have been widespread for years.[12][13][14][15][16][17]

New York congestion tolls[edit]

In July 2007, Silver was skeptical about Mayor Michael Bloomberg's New York congestion pricing program. When a meeting of the Democratic Assembly Conference indicated the proposal lacked sufficient support, Silver declined to schedule a vote on the measure, and it died. Although he stated that he "probably would have voted for the bill," a majority of his conference opposed the proposed plan.[18] Proponents argued that it would reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions, lead to less-crowded streets, and raise much-needed funds for public transportation, while opponents objected to the notion of a new driving tax.

Mixed martial arts[edit]

Silver, in his role as Speaker, was widely blamed for the delay in passing A04146A through the Assembly to legalize professional mixed martial arts (MMA) in New York State.[19][20] Silver and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (both Democrats supported by UNITE HERE) opposed legalizing MMA.[21][22]

Failure to investigate sexual harassment[edit]

A former top aide to Silver, chief counsel J. Michael Boxley, was accused of raping two legislative aides while he was working for the Speaker, and Boxley eventually pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct. Silver was sued for failing to investigate the accusations properly and for tolerating a culture of sexual harassment in the Assembly. In 2006, Silver and the Assembly leadership agreed to pay $500,000 to settle the lawsuit.[23] Similar settlements in 2012 and 2015 resulted from multiple harassment charges against former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, and Silver was accused of not acting forcefully to prevent Lopez’s behavior. Silver apologized for not reporting cases to the Assembly's Ethics Committee as required, and said that since then he "put in place new policies to ensure these incidents are dealt with swiftly and transparently."[24][25]

Arrest and resignation as Speaker[edit]

On January 7, 2015, Silver was elected Speaker for the 11th time, with almost unanimous support from the Democratic majority despite a federal probe into his outside income.[26]

On January 22, Silver was arrested on federal corruption charges.[27] The federal inquiry, which followed the state's abruptly disbanded Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, focused on large payments that Silver received for years from a law firm that specializes in seeking reductions of New York City real-estate taxes. Investigators led by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara charged that Silver did not properly disclose the payments from the firm, Goldberg & Iryami, on his annual financial disclosure filings with the state. The firm's major client was the state’s single-largest political donor, while the founding partner Jay Goldberg was Silver's former Assembly counsel, and partner Dara Iryami agreed to testify under immunity.[28]

Similar charges involved millions of dollars in asbestos lawsuit-related referral fees that Silver received from the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg,[29][30][31] which announced that it was placing him on leave.[32][33] One of his longtime associates, Brian Meara, provided key information to investigators in exchange for a non-prosecution agreement,[34] as did the physician involved in the asbestos cases, Robert Taub.[27]

On January 30, after a week of intense political pressure and dwindling support, Silver submitted his resignation as Speaker, effective February 2, while retaining his position as Assembly Member[35] and vowing to fight the charges against him. On February 3, the Assembly elected Carl Heastie as the new Speaker.[36]

On April 25, Silver was indicted on new charges of making illegal investments through private vehicles, netting a profit of $750,000.[37] He pled not guilty to these new charges three days later, on April 28.[38]

On November 30, 2015, a unanimous jury found Silver guilty on all 7 counts, triggering automatic expulsion from the Assembly.[39]

Personal life[edit]

Silver and his wife Rosa, a former special needs schoolteacher, have four adult children.[40][41]

By the time he became Speaker of the Assembly, he was known to play basketball with other high-ranking officials, including former Governor Mario Cuomo and former Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi.[42]

Two weeks after Silver's criminal conviction, a son-in-law was sentenced to prison for a separate multimillion-dollar crime, also prosecuted by Bharara's office.[43]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hakim, Danny; Kaplan, Thomas (May 20, 2013). "Bad Week Is Merely Bump for Assembly’s Master of Power". New York Times. 
  2. ^ Fisher, Ian (November 22, 1994). "With Cuomo's Loss, Speaker Is Top Democrat in Albany". New York Times. 
  3. ^ "Sheldon Silver: Profile". Weitz and Luxenberg. Retrieved February 23, 2015. 
  4. ^ "The Speaker's Day Job". New York Post. March 20, 2007. Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
  5. ^ Gray, Geoffrey (June 1, 2008). "The Obstructionist". New York magazine. 
  6. ^ "Election Results (1994–2014)". New York State Board of Elections. Retrieved February 23, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Capital Punishment, 1995–2005, editorial". The New York Daily News. April 13, 2005. 
  8. ^ Hu, Winnie (December 17, 2005). "Pataki Wants Death Penalty for Killers of Police". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ Barbanel, Josh (January 25, 2015). "Speaker’s Woes Leave Tenant Advocates Wary". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  10. ^ "The Tax Whose Time Has Gone". New York Fiscal Watch. Manhattan Institute. January 19, 2002. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  11. ^ "The Winner and Still King". The Buffalo News. May 25, 2000. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  12. ^ Lachman, Seymour P.; Polner, Robert (2006). Three Men in a Room: The Inside Story of Power and Betrayal in an American Statehouse. New Press. ISBN 9781595580320. 
  13. ^ "Legislature isn’t sinister, look beyond the surface". Herald American (Syracuse, NY). December 4, 1994. Budgets and policy bills are negotiated by 'three men in a room' who are not challenged by the members dependent on leadership resources. Reform is clearly needed. 
  14. ^ "Rank and File of Albany Chafing at Their Bit Parts". New York Times. January 3, 1998. In New York, budget negotiations are derisively known as 'three men in a room.' The Senate majority leader, Assembly Speaker and their hand-picked staffs do all of the haggling with the Governor, all in private. Legislative committees sit on the sidelines, receiving much of their information from newspaper articles. 
  15. ^ "Reforming Albany the Right Way". New York Daily News. November 29, 2004. Only when talks are concluded do the public and rank-and-file lawmakers get a clue as to what was on the table. This three-men-in-a-room process has been decried for years, and 20 years of late budgets more than proves it doesn't work. 
  16. ^ "Aqueduct gaming report rips Paterson, Senate leadership". Times Union (Albany, NY). October 21, 2010. Much of the corruption, Fisch noted, was enabled by special rules devised in 2008. They enshrined the power of the so-called 'three men in a room' – at the time, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Silver and Republican Majority Leader Joseph Bruno – to a degree that was unusual even by Albany's lax ethical standards. 
  17. ^ "Silver & Skelos: New York’s corruption-trial double feature". New York Post. November 16, 2015. As recently as January, the two pols (along with the governor) made up the infamous 'three men in a room' – the trio that secretively makes all the decisions in Albany. 
  18. ^ Paybarah, Azi (April 9, 2008). "Congestion Drip: Is Sheldon Silver the Man to Blame?". New York Observer. Retrieved February 1, 2015. 
  19. ^ Okamoto, Brett (June 16, 2011). "Fertitta on NY: 'It's clear we have the votes'". ESPN. Retrieved February 1, 2015. 
  20. ^ Iole, Kevin (May 28, 2012). "MMA in New York? Not until assembly speaker Sheldon Silver's gone ...". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved August 2, 2013. 
  21. ^ McMorris, Bill (March 13, 2013). "Union Fighting Championship". Washington Free Beacon. Retrieved February 1, 2015. 
  22. ^ "The Unions’ Battle Against Mixed Martial Arts (And New Yorkers)". Mediaite. March 28, 2013. Retrieved August 2, 2013. 
  23. ^ Hakim, Danny (July 14, 2008). "Two Accusers of an Ex-Aide Join an Effort to Oust Silver". The New York Times. 
  24. ^ Hakim, Danny (August 30, 2012). "2 Women Received $32,000 From Assemblyman, Beyond Money From State". The New York Times. Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
  25. ^ McKinley, Jesse (February 6, 2015). "Harassment Suit Against Former Assemblyman Vito Lopez and Sheldon Silver Is Settled". The New York Times. Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
  26. ^ Campanile, Carl (January 7, 2015). "Sheldon Silver elected to 11th term as speaker, despite probe". New York Post. Retrieved February 23, 2015. 
  27. ^ a b Craig, Susanne (January 22, 2015). "Complaint Details How Silver Earned Millions From Obscure Legal Work". New York Times. Retrieved January 31, 2015. 
  28. ^ Matthews, Brad (January 23, 2015). "New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver arrested on corruption charges by the FBI". Watchdog Arena (Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity). Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  29. ^ Rashbaum, William K.; Kaplan, Thomas (January 22, 2015). "Sheldon Silver, Assembly Speaker, Took Millions in Payoffs, U.S. Says". The New York Times. Retrieved January 26, 2015. 
  30. ^ Calder, Rich; Campanile, Carl; Short, Aaron; Golding, Bruce (January 22, 2015). "Sheldon Silver arrested for taking $4M in bribes, kickbacks". New York Post. Retrieved January 26, 2015. 
  31. ^ Klepper, David (January 23, 2015). "Top NY politician's arrest prompts calls for ethics overhaul". Associated Press. Retrieved January 26, 2015. 
  32. ^ Kaplan, Thomas (January 28, 2015). "Sheldon Silver Taking Leave of Absence From Law Firm". The New York Times. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  33. ^ Short, Aaron; Campanile, Carl (January 29, 2015). "‘Shocked’ law firm gives Sheldon Silver the boot". New York Post. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  34. ^ Campanile, Carl; Schram, Jamie; Golding, Bruce (January 23, 2015). "Close friend, top lobbyist helped feds take down Sheldon Silver". New York Post. Retrieved January 26, 2015. 
  35. ^ "Silver to Resign as Speaker on Monday". NY1 News. January 30, 2015. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  36. ^ Kaplan, Thomas (February 3, 2015). "New Speaker in Albany: A Skilled Operator, Embracing Change". New York Times. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  37. ^ Hofmann, Tess (April 24, 2015). "Silver Hit With New Charges". The Real Deal: New York Real Estate News. 
  38. ^ Mueller, Benjamin (April 28, 2015). "Sheldon Silver Pleads Not Guilty to Newest Charge". New York Times. 
  39. ^ Weiser, Benjamin; Craig, Susanne (November 30, 2015). "Sheldon Silver, Ex-New York Assembly Speaker, Is Found Guilty on All Counts". The New York Times. Retrieved November 30, 2015. 
  40. ^ Fears, Danica (January 23, 2015). "Sheldon Silver’s wealth a well-kept secret". New York Post. 
  41. ^ Breidenbach, Michelle (January 22, 2015). "Sheldon Silver: The Man Upstaters Love to Hate". Syracuse Post-Standard. 
  42. ^ Shapiro, Rachel (July 10, 2014). "Assembly Speaker Silver's Goldmine". The Jewish Voice. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 
  43. ^ Larson, Erik (December 16, 2015). "Sheldon Silver's Son-in-Law Gets 2 Years for Running Ponzi Scam". Bloomberg News. Retrieved December 17, 2015. 

External links[edit]

New York Assembly
Preceded by
Anthony G. DiFalco
New York State Assembly
63rd District

1977–1982
Succeeded by
Steven Sanders
Preceded by
Paul M. Viggiano
New York State Assembly
62nd District

1983–2002
Succeeded by
Robert Straniere
Preceded by
Richard N. Gottfried
New York State Assembly
64th District

2003–2012
Succeeded by
Nicole Malliotakis
Preceded by
Micah Kellner
New York State Assembly
65th District

2013–2015
Succeeded by
Vacant
Preceded by
Saul Weprin
New York State Assembly
Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means

1991–1994
Succeeded by
Herman D. Farrell, Jr.
Political offices
Preceded by
Saul Weprin
Speaker of the New York State Assembly
1994–2015
Succeeded by
Carl Heastie