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Sheldon Silver’s Arrest: How the Lower East Side is Reacting

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Sheldon Silver is surrounded by elected officials and local activists at a recent event in Chinatown.
Sheldon Silver is surrounded by elected officials and local activists at a recent event in Chinatown.

In the past two days, we’ve been talking with a lot of people on the Lower East Side about the bombshell news of Sheldon Silver’s arrest.

As the Times pointed out this morning, Speaker Silver has his share of detractors in the neighborhood in which he was born and raised.  There’s definitely significant scandal fatigue and anger about the allegations of brazen influence pedaling and profiteering contained in the U.S Attorney’s 35-page report.

However, amongst the hard-core community activists and service providers we have interviewed since yesterday morning, the prevailing emotions are anxiety and fear of the uncertain road ahead.  No one was willing to say anything meaningful on the record, but many people spoke candidly on background about the potential impact of Silver’s arrest.

As of this moment, it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll be able to continue as Speaker.  But whether he hangs on in the short-term or is made to step aside, the dramatic events this week have forced everyone to begin thinking through “life on the Lower East Side after Shelly.”

His impact in the neighborhood is immense. For one thing, the Speaker directs millions of dollars in funding to non-profit organizations that provide social services, including after school programs and meals for seniors. Some of the funding comes in the form of direct grants. But more important, not-for-profit leaders say, Silver has huge influence over virtually every line in the state budget. While prosecutors and good government groups have argued that this is part of the problem in Albany, providers of social programs will tell you Silver has been an invaluable ally and a fierce protector of progressive values.

boiler ribbon cutting
Silver helped the Seward Park Co-op unveil a new boiler system in 2013.
Silver at the Open Door Senior Center in 2013.
Locals help celebrate Silver’s re-election as Speaker in 2013; Po-Ling Ng, head of Open Door Senior Center; members of the 10 Stanton Street Tenant Association, (left to right) Debbie Gonzalez, President Alysha Lewis, Cheryl Freeman and Rochelle Gilbert.
Sheldon Silver at Luther Gulick Park, 2011.
Sheldon Silver at Luther Gulick Park, 2011.

Over the years, people on the Lower East Side have grown accustomed to leaning on the Speaker’s office. A single call from his deputies to a city or state agency can make things happen. You’ve got a leaky subway station? Call Shelly. No one’s listening to your plea for a stop sign at a dangerous intersection? Call Shelly. Gas service has failed yet again in your NYCHA building? Call Shelly. It’s true that lots of people don’t feel as though they have his ear. As the Times put it, “Mr. Silver has often been accused of spreading his love for the Lower East Side unevenly.” But there’s no doubt it will be a rude awakening one day (whether that day is tomorrow or two years from now) when the Lower East Side’s Assemblyman is not the most powerful presence in the room.

There’s another point of view, of course. Some of the people we interviewed are eagerly looking forward to a fresh start. Within the Latino community, in particular, there’s still a lot of resentment towards Silver. Many affordable housing activists will never forgive him for blocking redevelopment of the Seward Park parcels for so many years. A new generation of progressive activists sees Silver’s eventual exit from the political stage as an opportunity to cultivate new leadership.

There’s already some speculation about who might emerge to run for Silver’s seat in the 65th Assembly District, should it become available. Paul Newell, who opposed the Speaker in 2008, is a potential candidate. He posted a statement on his website shortly after news of Silver’s pending arrest broke. Other possible candidates include: Jenifer Rajkumar (a district leader), City Council member Margaret Chin (although she has never expressed interest in a future beyond the Council) and Community Board 3 Chairperson Gigi Li.

But, truth be told, most Lower East Side political insiders are betting Silver isn’t going anywhere for the time being. They’ve seen him overcome one scandal after another and are convinced he’s still got some fight left.

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  1. Finally!!! This two-bit crook is taken down. Watch all the people who kissed his ass and were in favor with him start to walk with a little less arrogance. Shelly is a hypocrite and a fraud and all those that knew he was and still kissed his ass and covered for him should all look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves if they feel proud of who they are. You all are a bunch of spineless wimps. I believe that the people of the Lower East Side deserve community leaders and elected officials that have the integrity and the backbone to fight for them and defend their interest. Let’s see now what the people who proclaim to represent and lead the Lower East Side do. It is time for celebration in the Lower East Side as we have rid ourselves of a cancer among us. Thank you U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for having the decency to rid us of this cockroach.

  2. Time to clear the swamp! We don’t need a lying fraud representing us just because he got some things done. We should hold our own as accountable as we hold others. He’s no different and he doesn’t get a pass because he’s ours. F&*K HIM!

  3. Couldn’t wrote that better. As the saying goes every Dog has his day. Welcome to the list shelly. Let’s see how your political connects help you this time. Kudos AG. HIT HIM WITH THE BOOK!!!!

  4. In the same vein as Shelly, I am proud of who I am, I am proud of where I come from, and I am proud to give back to the neighborhood where I was born. Nothing can change that, no matter how hard you and fellow internet pundits of dubious merit and accomplishment try, until you actually do
    something meaningful for our community and city your projections of vitriol and shame amount to nothing and help nobody. Those who actually get things done in the government and community know how important Shelly is to us, the city, and state. It’s ironic when blog commenters project spinelessness on others considering that if they had a fraction of the immense responsibility, and culpability bestowed upon those they criticize they’d run crying to their momma in the first week, let alone 40 years.

  5. I think people lose sight of Shelly’s obligation to the Lower East side and how he has always delivered. Yes, in serving as the speaker of the assembly Shelly’s duties to the state were expanded… but that doesn’t change the fact that he is OUR assemblyman for the LES. We didn’t elect him in the capacity of Speaker that was done by the assembly who obviously have respect
    for him. We elected him to represent us and do the most he can for our needs, which is the obligation of any assemblyman to their district. In that regard he excelled and led to growth and stability for the LES and the community organizations that support our most vulnerable citizens. The pundits can skew this fact all they want but real, storied LES citizens know how well he has done for us.

  6. I’ve never had any part of me kissed by this politician, but I am wondering why this is happening now. Silver is the only elected official powerful enough to raise a real fight for the teacher’s union, to stop the privatization of public schools – the influx of Charter schools- and to fight for low-income tenant protections in Albany. Silver losing agency will have consequences for our city… particularly the LES.
    Cuomo is targeting the teacher’s union as we speak, promoting Charter schools and blaming teachers for the low success rate of students (no mention of poverty, racism, sexism, the overwhelming lives of parents who work in and outside the home, etc etc).
    I’m not a fan of covering up sexual harassment, planning that results in racism (intended or not), encouraging multi-billion dollar real estate interests -or the myriad other tactics in politics. And three men in a room should not have unquestioned sway over NY. No matter how good they are.
    But finding an individual scapegoat (guilty or not) isn’t quite like unearthing the underlying root causes of corruption (financial or ethical). Though any individual can play a good role in ending root causes and there is no good ‘excuse’ for abuse of power.
    The ‘legal’ destruction wrought by Court decisions like Citizen’s United have finished the unravelling of the democratic process- almost irrevocably. In elective politics elections are now won or lost depending on the war-chest funding of extreme wealth. NYC actually does better than NY state because of our funding structure.
    The Moreland Commission would have revealed the very big players in our state: the multi-billion dollar corporations who decide public policy – Extell for instance. It would have revealed their enablers: Democrats and Republicans (Republicans who are now in the majority of the State Senate led by Skelos – the ‘third’ man in the room). Preet had best be finding out why Cuomo torpedoed that Commission.
    And we best be focused on what made “three men in a room” possible. Because this system will quickly produce three other “men in a room” no matter what happens to these individuals.
    We too have played our part in the status quo. By being ill-informed, by not voting, by living in our own silos, by being dishonest, and by pandering to our “own” even to the detriment of the whole.
    So yes, let’s end bi-partisan political corruption. But it starts with the big money – not the chump change Silver is being charged with. I still ask myself: who did Silver piss off? Because it was never about any of us – even those of you who he angered.

  7. Are we speaking of the same Shelly? Is it the one that was brought up on five federal charges including bribery and conspiracy or the dead attorney that our fraudster assemblyman wanted to blame for keeping low income people of color out of Seward Park? After the LES entrusted him for 40 years, he better have done some good for our community especially being the speaker. The fact that our assemblyman is the almighty speaker should not let us turn a blind eye to all the shit he was doing. He received $6 Million from Weitz and Luxenberg since 2002 and can’t prove he even went to their offices. I’m sure that was for being a great attorney, right? That’s what the government has been able to find, imagine what they have no clue about. Silver and anyone who runs for office is begging to have that “immense responsibility” bestowed upon them. So, I don’t feel sorry for him. I’ll say it again: F*&K HIM! I guess you are willing to look the other way as long as he gets you what you want. Guess what you call that?

  8. “Preet had best be finding out why Cuomo torpedoed that Commission.”

    Bhahara HAS been looking into why the commission was disbanded, and Silver’s corruption charges appear to be the first (but, Bhahara has hinted, not the last) outcome of the feds picking up where the commission left off.

  9. Zephyr Teachout in NYTimes today, “…fighting …corruption… isn’t just about getting cuffs on the right guy. .., a fixation on plain graft misses the more pernicious poison that has entered our system… The corruption that hides in plain sight is the real threat to our democracy… In our private financing system, candidates are trained to respond to campaign cash and serve donors’ interests. Politicians are expected to spend half their time talking to funders and to keep them happy. Given this context, it’s not hard to see how a bribery charge can feel like a technical argument instead of a moral one.”

  10. The timing is troublesome – not the intent of the US Attorney. Teachers and affordable housing are at stake – now. And while I appreciate these efforts, they are important and perhaps all that can be done, but the real issue is in the ever-increasing income disparities that have been manipulated into “legalized theft”.

  11. It sounds like the developer Litwin had his arm twisted about being involved – I hope that is made clear in the press – that the politicians are involved in something that basically extorts the owners – either you pay a third of the overcharge to a certiorari lawyer or you pay the entire overcharge and if you are being targeted to make you sell your building, that certiorari lawyer may not get you ANY reduction on the property tax assessment. Who is going to make it up to the people victimized by NOT influence peddling but discrimination and illegal activity disguised as government legislation and taxation?

    The federal prosecutors may ride into town and claim themselves a bad guy but they leave behind the same town with the same cronies in place so the problem isn’t solved – there’s just a shift in assignments for the embedded power structure.

  12. Isn’t it dangerous though that he was/is such a huge rent regulation advocate – not just because he benefits from it – someone should look at why SCRIE income limits were increased to 50k just under the 55k city average when half of the city doesn’t make that much and according to a Toisanese I met on the subway ($1400 for a 2 bedroom on Elmhurst) and an Indian cabbie ($1500 for a 2 bedroom in Flushing) – there are cheaper apartments in Brooklyn and other parts of Queens but they choose to pay more to be near subway stops. I don’t think there were that many people who qualified for SCRIE – maybe not enough to serve their soapboxes so the income limit was raised and possibly so they could succeed to their parent’s units or their kid could inherit their grandmother’s unit – there’s something about that SCRIE ….

    Why aren’t we legislating based on income for rent regulations when private owners are out of pocket? We do it for NYCHA because it’s government money – we ask for background information for poor door and NYCHA applicants but rent regulated owners are not only forced to go blind with who is in their building and who has keys but Governor Cuomo will actually intervene and subpoena a landlord for daring to investigate his tenants.

    That shutdown on Tuesday was very interesting in terms of who was on the streets in Little Italy Chinatown from the rent regulated apartments.

    The government needs to play fair but they don’t care at all about Sheldon Silver and whether eh will cut a deal with the Feds because NY is its own private fiefdom. But I ask the bigwigs who manage to survive, do you think it could be better? Why aren’t we pushing for fair play?


    Silver is the architect of the
    decades long corrupt deal that resulted in Essex Crossing rather than
    affordable housing.I find it hard to believe any political figure would
    now risk being associated with approving this project.Essex Crossing
    should be halted.It should be scrapped for an affordable housing
    development of the type advertised on Housing Connect.They should be
    offered by lottery with an emphasis on families native to the
    district.Gentrification has to be stopped somewhere or there will be
    nothing left but condos and projects.

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