Sheldon Silver, the longtime Speaker of the State Assembly, who fell from power in 2015 and was imprisoned on federal corruption charges in 2020, died on Monday afternoon at age 77.
First elected to the State legislature in 1976, Mr. Silver represented Lower Manhattan in Albany. After 15 years in the Assembly, he moved up to the chairmanship of its powerful Ways and Means Committee. In 1994 (upon the death of the previous Speaker, Saul Weprin), he was elected to lead the chamber. Less than a year later, Republican George Pataki succeeded longtime Governor Mario Cuomo. That change had the effect of anointing Mr. Silver the most powerful Democratic Party elected official in New York State. Through the tenures of three mayors and six governors, nothing wanted by any occupant of City Hall or the Executive Mansion (from either party) got done without Mr. Silver’s consent.
This status translated into enormous benefits for his constituency, which consisted (roughly) of Lower Manhattan up to Vesey Street on the West Side and as far north as Houston Street on the East Side. From his perch atop the Assembly, he guarded his constituency against the predations of City and State officials who often seemed to regard Lower Manhattan as an asset to be monetized. He also lavished resources on the community.
“He helped get five new schools built, saved a sixth, built us a community center, saved another community center, and got many, many other things this community desperately needed,” observed Paul Hovitz, the former co-chair Community Board 1 (CB1), who knew and worked with Mr. Silver for decades.
“He was indispensable in getting P.S. 89/I.S. 289 built in Battery Park City in 1997,” recalled Mr. Hovitz. Then, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, “he helped raise $17 million in capital funds from corporate donors to open the Millennium High School in the Financial District. This was a moment when the eyes of the nation and the world were on Lower Manhattan, and it was the first time that a community had raised this kind of money to open a new school.”
A few years later, Mr. Hovitz remembered, “the developers of a new building near the Brooklyn Bridge had an agreement with Pace University, which wanted to lease space there. But when Pace backed out, Shelly moved in, and persuaded the Department of Education to take the space for a new school, which became Spruce Street.” Around the same time, Mr. Silver helped broker a deal to take over a vacant site in Battery Park City (which the Pataki administration had earmarked for a Women’s Museum) for another new school, which became P.S./I.S. 276.
Later, Mr. Silver was instrumental in negotiating an agreement between the federal government and the City’s Department of Education (DOE) to take over the building that once housed the Peck Slip post office, and convert that into a yet another new school. And in 2014, Mr. Silver led a fight to stop a plan by the City’s Department of Education to move the highly regarded Tribeca school, P.S. 150, out of the neighborhood.