Sheldon Silver, the onetime Speaker of the State Assembly and the longtime patron and defender of Lower Manhattan, was convicted by a federal jury on Monday afternoon of seven counts of extortion, money laundering, and honest services fraud. Although an appeal of the verdict is likely, Mr. Silver now faces up to 130 years in prison.In the meantime, the judge who presided over the trial will shortly set a date for Mr. Silver’s surrender to federal authorities. Under State law, and the rules of the house of the legislature that he once led, Mr. Silver will also be required to vacate his seat in the Assembly immediately.
Lower Manhattan community leaders reacted to the verdict with a mixture of sadness and acceptance. “It will be interesting to see who emerges to take his place as a real advocate for Lower Manhattan,” said Anthony Notaro, who chairs the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1). “What Lower Manhattan will be like without Sheldon Silver is hard to say, but we won’t have the same status as we did before his indictment and conviction.”
“It’s a sad day for those who live and work Downtown,” observed CB1 member Tom Goodkind.
“I am sorry for Shelly and his family,” remarked Paul Hovtiz, co-chair of CB1’s Youth and Education Committee, who worked closely with Mr. Silver on bringing multiple new schools to Lower Manhattan in the years following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. “I do not condone the issues that jury found him guilty of. However, the years of service to our community, indeed the entire State, should not be minimized. Most of the school seats in CB1 would not exist if it weren’t for the work of Shelly Silver. Grants to seniors, stewardship of the Seaport Historic District, and so on — these should all be on the plus side of the ledger, along with dozens of other public service projects. We will be hard-pressed to find another so dedicated to our community.”
P.S/I.S 276 was one of the schools Assemblyman Silver was instrumental in bringing to
Tricia Joyce, chair of CB1’s Youth and Education Committee, recalled, “all that Shelly Silver accomplished for his constituency in Lower Manhattan. He was directly responsible for the existence of the Spruce St School, P.S./I.S. 276.” She noted that Mr. Silver’s intervention also led to these schools being “incubated” at Tweed Court House, when construction delays prevented the buildings from opening in time to accept their first students. “He was able to convince the City to green-light the P.S. 234 annex,” at the Downtown Community Center. “He formed a task force for overcrowding in 2008 when it became clear that the Bloomberg administration had not planned any school seats, or any other infrastructure for that matter, along with the planned development of over 35,000 apartments in Lower Manhattan,” Ms. Joyce added. “He then helped negotiate a deal to not only convert the Peck Slip Post Office into an elementary school, but pressed the School Construction Authority to expand the building so that it could accommodate more students. All of these were schools the Department of Education said lower Manhattan didn’t need and all of them are at or over capacity today. We have lost a tremendous advocate in Lower Manhattan.”
Ninfa Segarra, the co-chair of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee (and a former Deputy Mayor), said, “a jury of our peers found Sheldon Silver guilty. He will be sentenced as required. The practices he was convicted for seem to be business as usual in Albany. The departure of Silver and [former State Senate Majority Leader Dean] Skelos provides an opportunity to make changes, like increasing the salary of New York State elected officials, making it a full-time job, and enacting new ethics disclosure laws.” Ms. Segarra added that, “Shelly’s departure from the political scene has negative implications for his district. For years, we could count on him for such things as the Gateway rent stabilization deal, additional schools seats, a strong voice post-9/11, reflecting the community’s interest, interfacing with Battery Park City Authority, and more. His departure creates a new political paradigm for our community. Our active political participation in the election process can serve to protect our interest into the future.”
Mark Costello, who served for many years on CB1 (and is also a former federal prosecutor and New York County assistant district attorney), said, “Sheldon Silver has been deeply and personally involved and invested in every new school, every new or renovated park, and every other bread and butter community initiative on the West Side for the last quarter century. He saw government as a million little deals and compromises. Each of those deals created something of value for his district. But bigger worries — congestion pricing, the Battery Park City ground leases — were always pushed into the future. He was a good man with flawed, old fashioned methods. We’ll be much more at the mercy of Wall Street and the governor without Shelly Silver.”
Pat Smith is a longtime Battery Park City resident who, as part of a committee representing condominium owners, worked closely with Mr. Silver in 2011 on negotiations that led to a 30-year, $280-million rollback of previously scheduled increases in ground rents for homeowners in the neighborhood. Mr. Smith reflected that, “the jury has spoken and we must accept the verdict. But we must remember Sheldon Silver, and the good he did, as well. In the ground rent negotiations, he sought no compensation or upside for himself. He did this because it was what his constituents needed. He also made important contributions to the recovery of Lower Manhattan after September 11, 2001. My mother always told me to say, ‘thank you.’ And all that Sheldon Silver ever asked of us was our thanks.”
Paul Newell, a community organizer, tenant activist and elected Democratic Party District Leader in Lower Manhattan, said, “this is a sad day for Lower Manhattan and a sad day for New York. Today’s verdict proves it is up to us to reclaim our government. No court will end Albany’s culture of corruption and cronyism. If we, as voters and citizens, continue to accept a government that favors those who buy power and influence, then that will be the government we get. But, if we want a government that is fair, transparent, and works for all of us, we must reclaim it ourselves. We can and must do better. The time for us to act is now.” Mr. Newell (who challenged Mr. Silver for his Assembly Seat in 2009) added that, “Sheldon Silver’s legacy for Lower Manhattan is complicated, and there is no doubt that many of our neighbors benefited from his power. But those days are over, and it is in our neighborhood’s interest to build new leadership committed to a transparent and progressive government in New York.”
Jenifer Rajkumar, a District Leader for Lower Manhattan and Battery Park City resident, said, “Lower Manhattan residents must now come together across neighborhoods, income levels, and ethnicities, investing in a sense of collective destiny as we tackle the district’s pressing challenges of affordability, school overcrowding, and small business survival. We must also come together to address larger national issues of gun violence, national security, and equal pay for equal work. Working together, we can replace the culture of corruption in Albany with a culture of service. I look forward to being a part of this movement in any way that best serves our community and ensures honest and effective leadership for the future.”
Dennis Gault, also a Democratic Party District Leader, said, “over the years, Sheldon Silver did great things for the district. I do, however, respect the judicial process. I will be in contact with the Governor’s staff to see about the process to fill the seat, so that service is continues.”
What comes next for the Assembly seat that Mr. Silver has held since the mid-1970s was not immediately clear. In cases where a legislative seat becomes unexpectedly vacant, State law provides for two possibilities. The Governor can, if he chooses, call a special election. If the Governor takes no action, however, then the seat remains vacant until the next regular election. (In of the heavily Democratic 65th Assembly District, which Mr. Silver has represented since 1977, the next election may effectively be the next Democratic Party primary, in September, 2016.)
If Governor Andrew Cuomo chooses to call a special election, it would likely take place within the next 60 to 90 days. Because there would be no time for a party primary on such short notice, the Democratic and Republican County Committee members for the 65th Assembly District would directly choose candidates for both parties. In 1992, a similar scenario elevated Jerrold Nadler (then a member of the State Assembly) to the United States Congress, when incumbent Ted Weiss died one day before the primary election. Mr. Nadler was selected by the party’s County Committee members to stand in a special election to serve out the remainder of Mr. Weiss’s term. Mr. Nadler has represented Lower Manhattan in Congress ever since.
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