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.