Sheldon Silver is a Crook and We Will Pay for His Corruption [OP-ED]
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Photo: Brian Finke/New York Magazine
Sheldon Silver is not a good man. It no longer matters that he sometimes spoke up for progressive values, periodically supported good causes and organizations, or provided help— though selectively— to some of his constituents, when he was directly and indirectly fleecing our democracy while grossly abusing the public trust.
It is infuriating to hear his supporters — mainly those who benefitted from his largesse or those who are intertwined with his politics — rationalize Silver’s abuse of power and malfeasances by the old standby that “he did a lot for us.” If every crook could be exonerated merely because of their unrelated, non-criminal behavior, we’d have no need for prosecutors, judges or prison cells. Albany has long been a cesspool dominated by back room deals, outside money influence, cronyism, and “pay-to-play” culture. Mr. Silver was not just part of it. He brazenly led it, exploiting every legislative loophole and blocking any substantive ethics reform, while getting very rich in the process.
Holding court over Albany’s “cauldron of corruption” for decades, Mr. Silver now stands accused of fraud, conspiracy and extortion, having lined his pockets with $4 million in kickbacks and bribes. Mr. Silver will have his day in court, but given the high profile nature of this case, it would seem unlikely US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, would have moved forward unless he had a solid case underpinned with rock solid evidence.
It is not enough that Mr. Silver was stripped of his powerful Speaker position given that, from the back of the Chamber, his indelible fingerprint will most likely taint future decisions made by his successor, Mr. Heastie.
So where is our collective outrage as his constituents in the 65th Assembly District of New York? Just how long will we complacently tolerate our disgraced Assemblyman?
We voted Mr. Silver back in office after he repealed the commuter tax, selling out NYC for a political win upstate thereby broadening his power base while adding to the grab-bag of favors owed him. Since the latter repeal (in 1999), New York City has lost an estimated $10.6 billion dollars that would have supported all the progressive goals he lip serviced (e.g. public schools, parks, infrastructure and aid for his poorest and infirm constituents).
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Silver and Squadron cut the cake, June 2010, 50th anniversary of Seward Park
We didn’t flinch when he obstructed the congestion tax plan which would have reduced traffic and pollution in New York City. Speaker Silver killed the bill behind closed doors never allowing it to come to the floor for a vote. This inexcusable politicking constituted an enormous loss for NYC as this bill would have clearly improved public health for all NYC residents while securing over $500 million annually for mass transit improvements as well as a $350 million dollar Federal grant which would have staved off the need for fare hikes.
We enabled Mr. Silver to sustain Albany’s abusive, predatory behavior towards women when we re-elected him despite his orchestrated payoffs with taxpayer money to four women who had accused his political cronies of sexual harassment and abuse.
We stood by him as his childhood pal William Rapfogel, formerly head of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, was incarcerated for having embezzled $9 million from the charity in an insurance kickback scheme. Rapfogel is not coincidentally the husband of Silver’s longtime Chief of Staff. This very charity, along with over 30 of its subsidiaries, received millions of taxpayer dollars in funding from Mr. Silver since he has been in office while at the same time it was disgracefully being pillaged by Silver’s close buddy. And to bring this vicious cycle of corruption full circle, both Rapfogel’s charity and the insurance companies involved with the scam filled the coffers of Mr. Silver’s re-election campaigns year after year.
We were willing bystanders when Mr. Silver, mocking the basic principles of judicial integrity, stacked the courthouse with his Grand Street childhood cohorts. We did not object when he undemocratically steamrolled the confirmation of Jonathan Lippman in 2006 to the Chief Judgeship of New York, solidifying their unholy alliance as the two most powerful men in New York. Or when Judge Martin Shulman, Mr. Silver’s neighbor and former president of his Synagogue, was fraudulently appointed as an acting Supreme Court justice by Judge Lippman. During his nearly twelve year tenure, Schulman has presided over most of the tax-reduction decisions that have now been linked to the law firm Goldberg and Iryami— the very firm implicated in the 35-page indictment against Mr. Silver.
And we were simply silent when our “esteemed” leader and his insular Grand Street circle kept SPURA undeveloped for nearly 40 years, preventing 1,800 Puerto Rican families from returning to the their homes while at the same time obstructing the diversification of the 12-tower, subsidized housing complex “Cooperative” Village nearby — essentially denying multitudes of non-Jewish families access to affordable housing.
While Mr. Silver hid for years behind his black hat of religious devotion, carefully crafting his persona as a champion of “progressive values,” he was self-dealing, double-dipping, lining his pockets and wiping his feet on the democratic process. At the very core, Mr. Silver represents all that ails our democracy — a lack of transparency, accountability and principle, all driven by naked greed, corruption and cronyism.
Simply put, Mr. Silver is a charlatan, a liar, a religious chauvinist and a crook and we all pay for his corruption and the ethical vacuum he deceitfully engineered. It is time Mr. Silver left the Chamber. Period.
–Written by Erin Harvey