It’s a big week for former Lower East Side Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, who’s appealing his conviction on federal corruption charges. Lawyers for the former New York State power broker will lay out their case during a Thursday hearing before the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison in May of last year. A jury found him guilty of collecting $4 million in illicit payments and bribes. Silver’s legal team believes a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Virginia case has invalidated the verdict. They will argue that the trial court judge, Valerie Caproni, erred in her jury instructions, which defined “official action” allegedly taken by Silver in exchange for the payments.
Silver was, of course, prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Trump’s Justice Department over the weekend after refusing to resign his position (all 46 Obama-era states attorneys were told to step down). Bharara did not try the case against Silver. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Goldstein led the government’s prosecution. He’ll take the lead again on Thursday.
Sheldon Silver at the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan during his trial.
Sheldon Silver will remain a free man for at least a few more weeks. He was supposed to start serving a 12-year prison sentence at the end of this month after being convicted on federal corruption charges. Judge Valerie Caproni today set a new schedule for the former Lower East Side assemblyman’s case.
Silver’s attorneys asked the judge to allow him to stay out of prison while appealing the conviction. They believe his appeal gained more traction after the U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned a Virginia corruption case.
The judge has not decided on the appeal just yet. If she rules against the former speaker, he is widely expected to appeal to a higher court. Silver would not be required to surrender and pay $6.6 million in fines until 14 days after the appeals court decision, or Oct. 27, whichever date is later.
Silver was convicted late last year of fraud, extortion and money laundering.
UPDATE 11 p.m. Later in the day on Thursday, Judge Caproni ruled that Silver may delay reporting to federal prison until his appeal is considered. The New York Times reported:
Prosecutors had charged that Mr. Silver had obtained nearly $4 million in illicit payments and bribes in return for official actions that benefited a prominent cancer researcher at Columbia University and two real estate developers. Judge Caproni, in her opinion, made it clear she believed that Mr. Silver had engaged in such conduct. “There is no question that Silver took a number of official acts — most obviously passing legislation and approving state grants and tax-exempt financing — as part of a quid pro quo” in two schemes, she wrote. But, citing the recent (U.S. Supreme Court) decision, she added that there was a “substantial question” whether the court’s instructions to the jury, which defined official action, were in error, and if so, whether that error was harmless.
Silver’s lawyers, Joel Cohen and Steven F. Molo, said in a statement: “We are grateful that the trial judge agreed there is now a substantial legal question about the conviction. We look forward to vigorously pursuing Mr. Silver’s appeal.”
Sheldon Silver at the federal courthouse on Foley Square during his trial last year.
Some potential good news for former Lower East Side assemblyman Sheldon Silver. A ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court could lead to a successful appeal of his conviction last year on federal corruption charges.
This morning, the justices issued a unanimous ruling — vacating the conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. He was found guilty last year of extortion and fraud for accepting more than $175,000 in loans and gifts from a Virginia business executive. The appeal zeroed in on the definition of an “official act” by a government official.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “Our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute. A more limited interpretation of the term ‘official act’ leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption, while comporting with the text of the statute and the precedent of this court.” In the McDonnell case, prosecutors must decide whether to retry McDonnell using the stricter standard.
In May, Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison after being convicted of accepting $4 million in bribes and kickbacks in two separate schemes. The judge in his case postponed a decision whether to allow Silver to stay out of prison during his appeal. She cited the pending Supreme Court case in delaying a ruling.
James Margolin, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, said Silver’s conviction is not imperiled by today’s high court decision. “While we are reviewing the McDonnell decision,” he said, “the official actions that led to the convictions of Sheldon Silver and (Former Senate Majority Leader) Dean Skelos fall squarely within the definition set forth by the Supreme Court today.”
One of Silver’s attorneys told NY1, “The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision today in the McDonnell case makes clear that federal government has gone too far in prosecuting state officials for conduct that is part of the everyday functioning of those in elected office. The McDonnell decision will be central to Mr. Silver’s appeal.”
Sheldon Silver leaves court this afternoon after sentencing.
Former Lower East Assemblyman Sheldon Silver was sentenced this afternoon to 12 years in prison for federal corruption crimes.
He will also be required to forfeit more than $5 million collected in two kickback schemes and pay a $1.75 million fine. Judge Valerie Caproni said the former speaker of the New York State Assembly must report to prison by July 1. It’s possible Mr. Silver’s term could be delayed while appeals are heard.
Silver was found guilty Nov. 30 on charges that included honest services fraud, money laundering and extortion. At that time, he was forced to relinquish the seat he’d held in the assembly for almost 40 years. Just yesterday, Alice Cancel was sworn in as Silver’s replacement after winning a special election last month.
The judge today acknowledged Silver’s good works as a legislator but also said he’d caused “incalculable harm to the people of New York.” Caproni said she was imposing a tough sentence to send a message to other corrupt politicians who seem not to realize that a crooked government “makes the public very cynical.”
Following the sentencing, Silver exited the court building on Foley Square through a side door. He was met by a crush of reporters and photographers. The former lawmaker finally made his way to a waiting taxi cab, which took him away from the courthouse.
UPDATE 4:44 p.m. It was an insane scene outside court. While cameras swarmed around Silver and his attorneys, the mob slowly moved out to Centre Street, where news crews were pushing and shoving to get a clear shot. Silver finally made his way to a cab, but it was also surrounded. Finally, with the help of court officers, a path was cleared and the car made its way up Centre to Worth Street.
UPDATE 5:06 p.m. More details from the sentencing hearing.
Defense attorney Joel Cohen asked the judge to forego a prison sentence, opting for community service and house arrest. “He is already crushed,” said Cohen. “He’s been devastated by everything that occurred over the last year and a half,” added Silver’s longtime lawyer. “His obituary has already been written.” Referencing more than 100 letters written to the judge on behalf of their client, Steven Molo, another defense attorney, called for a sentence that “tempers justice with mercy.” Molo said Silver showed great compassion in helping his constituents deal with crises big and small, including 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy.
Immediately before the sentencing, Silver stood before the judge and offered a short statement. He said, “Without question, I’ve let down my family, I’ve let down my colleagues, I’ve let down my constituents, and I am truly, truly sorry for that.”
Prosecutors expressed indignation regarding a letter Silver wrote to the judge before today’s hearing. Assistant U.S. Attorney Howard Master called it a “remarkable document,” an apology letter that offered no admission of guilt. Instead of arguing at trial that the federal government was engaging in a campaign of character assassination, said Master, Silver could have admitted that he was to blame for his predicament. Another prosecutor, Carrie Cohen, said the sentence should send a message that “no one, including Sheldon Silver, is above the law.”
Judge Caproni said she carefully considered “all of the very kind letters” from people pleading for leniency. She called Silver an unusually gifted politician who “went beyond the call of duty” for his constituents. The judge also took into account that Silver is a 72-year-old man who was diagnosed with prostate cancer (the disease is currently in remission).
At the same time, however, Caproni said she concluded during the course of the trial that “New York State suffered tangible harm” from the former assembly speaker’s actions over many years. Evidence was presented that Silver consulted Glenwood Management, one of the firms implicated in the kickback scandal, before signing off on a new rent regulation law. “I’m confident that smaller firms would have loved that same opportunity,” said the judge, noting that Glenwood was funneling large sums of money to the powerful legislator. “Silver’s corruption cast a shadow over everything he has done,” she said.
The judge said her task was to decide whether Silver was a basically decent man who had simply gone astray, or whether he was fundamentally corrupt. In the end, she concluded that he was confronted on many occasions with the opportunity to “make things right,” yet he didn’t change his behavior. “I hope the sentence I impose on you will make other politicians think twice, until their better angels take over,” said Caproni. “Or, if there are no better angels, perhaps the fear of living out one’s golden years in an orange jumpsuit will keep them on the straight and narrow.”
Silver’s lawyers have requested that he serve at the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, N.Y., which has experience with Orthodox Jewish prisoners. Outside the courthouse today, Silver was asked about an appeal and said, “I believe in the justice system, and we will pursue all remedies that are available.”
Following the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara released a statement that read, the “stiff sentence is a just and fitting end to Sheldon Silver’s long career of corruption.”
UPDATE 8:44 p.m. Here’s video from the New York Times outside the courthouse:
Sheldon Silver, March 2015.
Tomorrow afternoon, Sheldon Silver will find out how long he’ll serve in prison after a jury convicted him this past November on federal corruption charges.
The longtime Lower East Side lawmaker was found guilty on seven counts, including honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m.
Prosecutors have urged Judge Valerie Caproni to impose a prison term of more than 14 years. The court’s probation department suggested 10 years. The U.S. Attorney also wants Silver to hand over $5 million and pay a $1 million fine. Prosecutors decided, however, not to go after his apartment in the Hillman Cooperative on Grand Street and a home in Woodbridge, New York.
Defense attorneys asked for a shorter term, even suggesting community service as an alternative. They would like the judge to take into consideration Mr. Silver’s good works as a legislator. About 100 letters were submitted on his behalf. The lawyers have also advocated for leniency because their client is being treated for prostate cancer.
According to the Daily News, it isn’t clear whether Silver will be able to delay serving his sentence until appeals are exhausted:
Manhattan Federal Judge Valerie Caproni could either rule Silver remain free while his appeal is heard, set a date for him to report to prison, or order he be taken into custody immediately, a source close to the case said.
In another story today, the Wall Street Journal pointed out that the judge had a lot of leeway in deciding what sentence is appropriate:
U.S. law says judges should decide sentences based not only on the offense, but also the defendant’s “history and characteristics.” Also relevant, the law says, are deterrence, public protection and the needs of the defendant, including medical care. In court filings, Mr. Silver’s lawyers have highlighted his prostate cancer, bile-duct obstruction and knee problems. For judges, sentencing in public-corruption cases presents a particular quandary: While the convicted official usually isn’t considered a threat to public safety, or capable of committing the same crimes in the future, the government has an incentive to punish such officials harshly to deter others from similar offenses. “The difficulty you have in high-profile cases is that there is a philosophical argument that general deterrence sometimes trumps all other factors,” said Benjamin Brafman, a defense attorney not connected to the Silver case who represented Carl Kruger, a former state senator who was convicted on public-corruption charges and sentenced to seven years.
We’ll have full coverage of Silver’s sentencing tomorrow.
City Hall, December 2012.
As we reported yesterday, prosecutors are asking a federal judge to slap former Assemblyman Sheldon Silver with a stiff sentence. After his late-November conviction on corruption charges, they’re calling for a prison term of greater than 14 years. This morning, we’re publishing the full memorandum from the defense, which includes many letters of support from Mr. Silver’s Lower East Side neighbors.
The document, filed in court yesterday, reveals that Silver, 72, has prostate cancer. He was diagnosed a year ago and has undergone radiation treatments. The cancer is currently in remission. Defense attorneys are asking Judge Valerie Caproni to take Silver’s medical condition into account when he’s sentenced next month.
The filing also includes a letter of apology from Silver. It reads, in part:
There are letters from the former speaker’s children, as well as from Rosa Silver, his wife of 49 years. “Writing this letter is the most difficult thing I have ever done,” she told the judge. “I am not sure what I can say to Your Honor except that my husband is a good man. He has done so much good for his family, which always came first, and also for the people of the State of New York… Please give him as lenient a sentence as possible.”
There are too many letters of support to mention all of them here. They include a wide cross-section of the 65th Assembly District, which Silver represented for almost 40 years. There are neighbors in the Hillman Co-op, where Silver has lived since the 1970s; local rabbis; community leaders, seniors and small business owners.
Mendel Hagler, former executive director of Gouverneur Health, Michael Zisser of University Settlement, Pastor Marc Rivera of Primitive Christian Church and Seward Park Co-op General Manager Frank Durant are just some of those who testify to Silver’s good works on the Lower East Side.
Tenant leaders such as Aixa Torres of the Smith Houses and Grisel Cintron of the Vladeck Houses submitted pleas to the judge. Torres acknowledged Silver’s conviction, but said that through 9/11, two hurricanes and other crises, “Mr. Silver has been present to help our community, and in doing so gave us hope to continue.”
In Chinatown, people such as Justin Yu, head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce; pharmacist Peter Lau; and Virginia Kee, co-founder of the Chinese American Planning Council, all wrote letters. Kee, explained, “I was truly touched that Assemblyman Sheldon Silver endorsed my candidacy (for district leader in 1985)… At that time very few elected officials paid any attention to Chinatown… It is part of Sheldon Silver’s legacy that our Asian community has been empowered and seeks representation.”
“While Mr. Silver’s many public and private good works do not excuse the conduct on which his conviction rests,” argued defense lawyers, “they – along with his personal circumstances – deserve thoughtful consideration in reaching a result that is truly fair.” The attorneys also tried to minimize the damage from last week’s revelations regarding Silver’s alleged extra-marital affairs. “Make no mistake,” they wrote, “the Government has not proven them – and certainly has not proven that there was any quid pro quo regarding them – despite its extraordinary investigation of every aspect of Mr. Silver’s life.”
Silver’s legal team is proposing that he be allowed to serve a portion of his term by performing community service at The Fortune Society, a non-profit group that advocates on behalf of criminal justice issues.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is urging a federal judge to crack down hard on Sheldon Silver when the former Lower East Side assemblyman is sentenced next month.
In documents filed today, prosecutors argue that Silver should be sentenced to more than 14 years in prison. The longtime New York state power broker was convicted on corruption charges this past November.
While guidelines suggest a sentence of up to 27 years, the court’s probation department has recommended a 10-year prison term. Prosecutors have not made a specific proposal, but argue that the sentence should be “substantially in excess” of what’s been recommended.
In a memo to Judge Valerie Caproni, they called for a penalty “greater than any sentence imposed on other New York State legislators convicted of public corruption offenses.” The longest sentence for a similar crime was handed to former Assemblyman William Boyland, who was convicted on corruption charges last year. He’s serving a 14-year term. Prosecutors also want Silver to relinquish more than $5 million — profits from his bribery schemes — and pay at least $1 million in fines.
The sentence imposed on Silver should reflect the unprecedented magnitude, duration, and scope of his abuse of power… It should reflect the immeasurable damage Silver caused to the democratic process and to the public trust. It should punish Silver for the vast harm he has caused and the position of trust that he exploited, deter other elected officials from the temptation towards corruption, and communicate to the public that the rule of law applies even to the most prominent of public officials.
Silver’s lawyers also weighed in on the subject today. They called for a lighter sentence that would permit the former lawmaker to, “continue to employ his unique talents to benefit others.” They suggested that, “a sentence that incorporates extensive community service and little — if any — incarceration could do that.”
Silver was convicted last year of seven counts, including honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering. Prosecutors said he illegally collected about $4 million in legal fees after using his position, that of assembly speaker, to aid a cancer researcher and two real estate firms.
Silver will be sentenced May 3. The lifelong Lower East Side resident is 72 years old.
Here are the dueling memos from the prosecution and defense, courtesy of Politico New York.
Sheldon Silver last summer on the Lower East Side.
Documents released in federal court this morning detail evidence from the U.S. Attorney that former Assemblyman Sheldon Silver was involved in two extramarital affairs.
The documents unsealed today ahead of Silver’s sentencing for public corruption crimes next month do not reveal the names of the women. But in a letter to Judge Valerie Caproni, prosecutors wrote that one of them was a lobbyist who met with the former speaker of the assembly “on a regular basis on behalf of clients who had business before the state.”
Silver, prosecutors said, “used his official position to recommend” a second woman for a state job. The position, while not specifically mentioned, was described as one, “over which he exercised a particularly high level of control.”
Lawyers in the U.S. Attorney’s office wanted to use the evidence in Silver’s trial last fall, but the judge shut down those efforts. The documents remained sealed until today; they were heavily redacted. Silver’s lawyers tried to keep them secret, but prosecutors successfully argued that they’re relevant to the his sentencing hearing, scheduled for May 3. Lawyers for news organizations also pressed for their release.
Defense attorney Joel Cohen released a statement this morning, saying “These are simply unproven and salacious allegations that have no place in this case or public discussion.”
On Nov. 30, Silver was found guilty of honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering. He was forced to give up his seat after 40 years representing the Lower East Side. A special election will be held next Tuesday to select a new assembly member in Lower Manhattan.
In court yesterday, Judge Caproni said of the information contained in the documents, “This is not one of his better moments.” Explaining her decision, she added, “I view this as of a piece of the crimes” for which Mr. Silver was convicted, namely the “misuse of his public office. And I think it’s relevant.”
In February, the judge’s written ruling stated:
Each (woman) allegedly had an extramarital affair with a public official and then exploited her relationship with the public official for personal gain… The expectation of privacy in an amorous relationship where official government business and personal benefit are intertwined is necessarily less than an amorous relationship between wholly private citizens or between a private citizen and a government official where there is no intersection with state business.
More details from Newsday:
Prosecutors… said they had a recording of a conversation between Silver and the first woman in which they discussed “both State and private business” and in parts spoke “quietly and in whispers” discussing how to conceal their relationship from reporters. “I don’t think he caught us,” Silver said in response to his alleged lover’s concern about inquiries being made by one reporter. The government said the lobbyist was widely viewed as someone with “special access” to Silver and got clients “in part because of her access.” Silver communicated with the second woman on a secret cellphone that was not in his name, prosecutors said, and called two different state officials to try to get her a job without revealing the personal relationship.
UPDATE 1:10 p.m. This from the Daily News:
A source identified the lobbyist as Patricia Lynch, a former aide to Silver who founded her own powerhouse lobbying firm, Patricia Lynch & Associates. Lynch was well-known for her close ties to Silver… Lynch, through her office, declined comment.
Last night, there was a public forum at the East River Cooperative, the first opportunity for voters to see and hear from the candidates on the ballot in an April 19 special election to replace former Assemblyman Sheldon Silver. It was hosted by Cooperatively Yours, a resident organization. Our own Ed Litvak was the moderator. Alice Cancel, Democratic nominee, and Yuh-Line Niou, who is running on the Working Families Party line, both participated. Republican candidate Lester Chang was invited but did not attend. Here’s a full audio recording of the event. As the tape begins, you’ll be hearing introductory remarks from Jeremy Sherber of Cooperatively Yours. We’ll have a synopsis of the event at a later time.
Sheldon Silver. File photo.
The state comptroller’s office confirms that former Lower East Side Assemblyman Sheldon Silver has started receiving his pension.
Silver was forced to give up his seat representing the 65th Assembly District after a jury convicted him on federal corruption charges this past November. According to WGRZ-TV, he’s now receiving a state pension amounting to $6,602/month or $79,224/year.
Silver was first elected to the State Legislature in 1976 and served continuously for 40 years. But he joined the state pension system in 1971 as a law secretary in state civil court.
Last week, Governor Cuomo said,”It is perverse that taxpayers’ money would support officials found guilty of committing a felony against the taxpayers… We must take state pensions from those convicted of a crime related to their government service. Anything else shows disrespect for the rule of law and for the taxpayer.” Cuomo is proposing changes in the system as part of a new ethics reform agenda.
Silver will be sentenced April 13. Prosecutors are expected to ask for the forfeiture of his pension, in addition to to other financial penalties and a prison sentence.
Sheldon Silver leaves the courthouse in Lower Manhattan during his trial.
In City & State, reporter Zack Fink takes readers “inside the jury room” during the Sheldon Silver federal corruption trial.
On Nov. 30, a jury found the former Lower East Side Assemblyman guilty on all charges. The story is based on the account of a single anonymous juror, “a married mother of two, and a Manhattan resident with an Ivy League education.” Fink refers to the juror as “Jane” for the purposes of the story (not her real name):
Jane told City & State that the prosecution team, led by Carrie Cohen of the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, “laid out the case impeccably.” That’s an enormous compliment considering how convoluted the evidence seemed at times. In contrast, (Silver defense attorney Steven) Molo made Jane feel uncomfortable – he stared at people perhaps a few seconds too long, rendering the sustained eye contact unsettling. The defense “didn’t present facts,” she told me, and it was aimed at trying to “fool people.” She concluded that the entire defense presentation seemed phony. “We are not going to fall for that,” she added, with a snap of her head. “Molo talked down to us and insulted our intelligence.” Pressed for a more introspective assessment of why she came to her conclusions about Silver’s guilt, Jane paused for a minute or so. “Somebody needs to be made an example of,” she said, finally. “We don’t let people off the hook for crimes they commit because they happen to live in a quote-unquote bad neighborhood. Why would we let him (Silver) off the hook? He was lying in the press. And he was dishonest in his motives for governing. White collar crime cannot be held to a different standard.”
When deliberations began, Jane recalled, the panel was, more-or-less, split equally between those who felt Silver was guilty and those who were leaning in the direction of an acquittal. After about 90 minutes of discussion, however, there were only two jurors favoring a “not guilty” verdict.
In the article, the juror talks about her successful efforts to persuade one of the holdouts, Arlene Phillips, to change her mind. You can read more about that here. Silver is, of course, appealing his conviction. Post-trial motions are due Jan. 18. Sentencing will take place April 13. According to Fink, “oral arguments would be heard by a three-judge panel from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.” That might not happen for about a year.
One other newsworthy item from the story — All 12 jurors met privately with defense attorneys right after the verdict:
The defense team had opted not to call any witnesses, an aggressive strategy intended to send a message to the jury that the prosecutors had simply failed to prove their case. In the meeting, the defense asked if anything would have swayed them toward an acquittal. Some jurors responded that they wanted to hear from Silver himself. Others said they had hoped to hear from character witnesses who could attest to Silver’s lifetime of public service. And at least one juror asked why Silver’s chief of staff in the Assembly, Judy Rapfogel, never testified. Her name was invoked several times during the trial, and she was on the prosecution’s list of potential witnesses, but was never called to the stand.
Silver was forced to step down from his seat in the New York State Assembly after the conviction. Gov. Cuomo has not yet called a special election for the vacancy in the 65th Assembly District. If he chooses not to do so, Lower Manhattan will be without representation in the assembly until January of 2017.
Shelden Silver with defense attorney Steven Molo outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan.
Former Lower East Side Assemblyman Sheldon Silver will be sentenced in federal court April 13. Judge Valerie Caproni set the date yesterday.
On Nov. 30, a jury convicted the onetime Assembly speaker of honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering. In theory, Silver could be sentenced to 130 years in prison, but a much shorter term is expected. Silver’s legal team is appealing the verdict and the lifelong Lower East Side resident has expressed confidence in his eventual vindication.
Silver was forced to relinquish his seat, representing the 65th Assembly District, following the verdict. Governor Cuomo has suggested he will call a special election for April 19, just a few days after Silver’s sentencing date. We’ll have a comprehensive report on the battle to succeed Silver in the next couple of days.
October 2012: Silver joined community activists, other elected officials to protest the closing of the Cherry Street Pathmark store.
People in the community have now had a little bit of time to process yesterday’s conviction of Sheldon Silver on federal corruption charges. Here are some of the comments we’ve gathered in the past 24 hours from local politicos.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron:
From the facts in the trial to the fact that our community has joined the growing list that has lost a representative to criminal conviction, this must be another urgent call to change how Albany works — closing the LLC loophole, campaign finance reform, and more. It’s certainly somber for many in Lower Manhattan, where he was a stalwart on issues like rebuilding after 9/11 and school overcrowding, and across the state, where there is no joy in again being reminded just how broken our state government is.
City Council member Margaret Chin:
As an elected official who proudly represents some of the same people who repeatedly put their faith in one man to further their best interests in Albany, I have been troubled by the steady stream of revelations regarding Mr. Silver’s conduct. Today’s verdict by a jury of his peers confirms the worst of those allegations. By committing the crimes of which he now stands convicted, Mr. Silver betrayed the trust of voters who have the right to expect honesty, integrity, and ethics from their elected representatives.
John Quinn, Lower East Side Democrats:
We’ve lost a stabilizing force in our community. No matter what you might have thought about him, Shelly showed up. He was there when we needed him. The guy has done a lot of good things — from bringing new schools downtown to keeping senior centers open. It’s sad. I think we’re all in shock.
Virginia Kee, United Democratic Organization/Chinatown activist:
I feel very sad about it. Sheldon Silver has always been very helpful to our community. I think political leaders should be accessible and Sheldon Silver was always accessible to us. Whether it was improving the Grand Street subway or helping to fund our senior lunch program, he did a lot. I don’t know about the case, about the trial and the accusations. But I think he should not just be judged (on the details of the case) but also on the good that he did over many years.
And finally, Sean Sweeney of Downtown Independent Democrats (DID), noted that the citywide and statewide press are having a field day denouncing Silver. While pointing out that Silver was never particularly supportive of DID candidates, Sweeney said he always found him to be courteous and respectful. Silver, he added, was not someone you wanted to cross and could be ruthless. But, Sweeney concluded, it’s undeniable that he did good things for Lower Manhattan.
Sheldon Silver rallied in Chinatown with community activists last year.
Residents of the Lower East Side and other Lower Manhattan neighborhoods woke up this morning with no representation in the New York State Assembly. It is the most immediate impact of yesterday’s conviction on federal corruption charges of Assemblyman Sheldon Silver. After four decades in Albany, Silver was immediately forced to relinquish his seat in the 65th Assembly District.
This morning, Governor Cuomo told the New York Observer, “I am looking at calling a special election for the Sheldon Silver seat as well as two other vacancies that exist now for April 19 (the same day as the presidential primary)… I believe that’s within the legal deadlines and that’s the date we’re looking at.” As we have reported in the past, it is likely that the Democratic nominee will be chosen by the County Committee, a group of party insiders from Lower Manhattan. Since the Democratic Party is so dominant in the assembly district, the general election is little more than a formality.
In the past few months, speculation regarding Silver’s successor has centered on two downtown district leaders: Paul Newell and Jenifer Rajkumar. Newell, who unsuccessfully challenged Silver in 2008, told The Lo-Down earlier today, “I am seriously looking at pushing ahead (with a campaign for the seat).” Newell said he will be meeting soon his his campaign committee. As Crain’s noted today, Newell has raised about $47,000 as of the summer filing period.
Rajkumar, who took on Council member Margaret Chin two years ago, is keeping a somewhat lower profile. In a statement today, she called on the people of Lower Manhattan to join in tackling the big issues facing the community. “Working together,” she said, “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.”
Other candidates are likely to emerge. The downtown political clubs, all with delegates at the county committees, will likely have a significant role in choosing the next Assembly member from Lower Manhattan. Newell and Rajkumar are both from Downtown Independent Democrats, so members of that club will be called on to choose between them. Community Board 3 Chairperson Gigi Li said this morning she’s keeping her options open. This past summer, a controversy over petition signatures derailed her bid to challenge Rajkumar for district leader.
The Truman Democratic Club, Sheldon Silver’s political organization, has a slate of country committee delegates. So in spite of Mr. Silver’s removal from office, he’ll still wield a certain amount of influence. The United Democratic Organization in Chinatown and the Lower East Side Democratic Club will also both be players in the political process. In an interview a short time ago, John Quinn (longtime leader of LES Democrats) said he fears the sudden power vacuum will lead to infighting throughout the district. He’s worried that the East Side could lose out to West Side if credible candidates do not emerge to take on Newell and Rajkumar.
We also have reaction from downtown politicos regarding the Silver verdict. Stay tuned for a separate post on that.