On Wednesday, the new legislative session begins in Albany and Lower East Side Assemblyman Sheldon Silver is all but assured of being re-elected as Speaker. He’s held the post since 1994 and will soon become the longest-serving Assembly Speaker in New York history.
At the same time, Silver continues to face questions about the outside income he earns as a private attorney. The U.S. Attorney and FBI are reportedly investigating payments made to the Speaker by Goldberg & Iryami, a real estate law firm. There’s been a steady stream of news articles in the past week concerning the investigation. Yesterday, Capital reported that at least 27 clients of the small law firm benefited from the state’s 421a tax break, a program that Silver has helped sustain:
A Capital examination of records maintained by the New York City Tax Commission shows there are 1,294 active petitions for reassessment of property tax assessments by properties that retain Goldberg & Iryami, a firm that specializes in obtaining real estate tax reductions. Additionally, 3,530 active petitions are being handled by the firm’s principal, Jay Arthur Goldberg. Many of these petitions were submitted by individual property owners or small businesses, but it appears that even more came from large developers and landlords like Leonard Litwin and Baruch Singer. At least 27 of the properties separately receive the 421a tax breaks whose renewal was supported by Silver, according to a Capital analysis of data maintained by the New York City Department of Finance. It is likely, however, that there are many more developers who have retained Goldberg & Iryami for one property and received a tax break for a different one.
The article notes that Silver is seen both as an ally of tenant groups as well as of real estate interests:
He plays it straight with us,” one real estate executive told Capital. “He’s not an antagonist. You know what he’s going to do, so he’s sort of predictable in that sense. He doesn’t have an irrational hostility like a lot of people do. He’s more tempered on it.” Another said: “Real estate generally sees him as a moderate amidst a very liberal conference. His leadership is seen as much better than some unknown leader that would follow him. The devil you know. Rather than, ‘Yeah, he’s our guy and he’s going to have our back on these issues,’ which I think is more the feeling with the Senate leadership.”
One prominent Silver critic, Michael McKee of the Tenants Political Action Committee, believes the Speaker only stands up for tenants when there’s little political risk. Capital explains:
When Silver’s Assembly has passed bills that have gained the support of tenants groups, they have often been symbolic one-house pieces of legislation that stood little chance of actual enactment. So, for example, when rent control came up for renewal in 2011, the Assembly passed a bill expanding tenant protections, even though the companion bill in the Republican-controlled Senate had little chance of passage since it was sponsored by a Democrat… McKee, of the Tenants PAC, views Silver’s tenure as one in which the speaker has failed to use all the leverage at his disposal to support programs like rent control. “In 1997 [‘s renewal of rent control], he sold us out big time,” McKee said. “He screwed us again in 2013 with the one big ugly. After making a pledge that he would not renew J-51 without getting significant improvements in the rent laws, he just gave that up entirely.”
But on the other hand, the story concludes:
Silver, it should be noted, has never been the beneficiary of real estate’s largesse to the same degree as Albany’s other leaders (his was the only conference that didn’t receive a plurality of its campaign contributions from this sector in the 2012 election cycle). But developers are still a significant source of money for Assembly Democrats… By virtue of his position, Silver is often the most effective champion tenants have got in Albany against the real estate lobby.