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Sheldon Silver’s Lower East Side Legacy: Community Board 3 Members React

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Sheldon Silver with other elected officials and community activists at the Former Pathmark store in 2012.
Sheldon Silver with other elected officials and community activists at the Former Pathmark store in 2012.

Editor’s note: During the past two decades, Sheldon Silver’s influence on the Lower East Side has been strongly felt within any number of local institutions. One of them is Community Board 3. We asked reporter Zach Williams to survey opinions at last night’s board meeting. Here’s his report.

Community Board 3 members say Sheldon Silver, the long-serving Assembly Speaker, could make things happen, but at least some of them believe the end of his tenure as speaker next week will likely not impede the board’s work going forward.

Many members of the board opted not to comment about Silver — who will step down as head of the state assembly on Monday following his Jan. 22 arrest on federal corruption charges. But CB3 representatives who were willing to speak on the record last night said his resignation from the powerful post  will sever a key link between the local community and Albany, but their work nonetheless must continue.

At the state level, Silver was for the past 21 years referred to as one of “three men in a room,” shaping budgets and policy along with the governor and senate majority leader. But on the Lower East Side, he is still “Shelly,” known just as much for his responsiveness to grassroots concerns, board member David Crane said in an interview.

Among Silver’s many contributions, said Crane, was deterring the use of the East River Waterfront for staging World Trade Center re-construction. Without Silver’s efforts, trucks would have been rumbling through the neighborhood for many years at the expense of residents’ quality of life, said Crane. “(Silver) has been a great advocate working with the board and (his absence in Albany) would be a tragic loss for the community,” he said.

[Silver has said he intends to stay on as assemblyman from the 65th Assembly District even after relinquishing his leadership post next week.]

Silver’s advocacy for senior programs in Chinatown attracted the loyalty of voters there, board member Karlin Chan said. He emphasized that Silver has yet to be convicted of any crimes, although he’s already paid a heavy price. Echoing criticism from some quarters that the U.S. attorney is overreaching in his prosecution, Chan suggested that politics as well as alleged malfeasance could have played a role in Silver’s fall. At the same time, the longtime Chinatown activist looks at the upheaval involving Silver as part of neighborhood change.  In some ways, Chan observed, Silver represents a past era on the Lower East Side. When he was a child, Chan said, the Jewish population in the neighborhood was substantially higher than it is today.

Some reform-minded legislators and good government groups have argued that Silver’s demise could help usher in a new era in Albany. Silver was first elected to the Assembly in 1976. Within the local community, some share the view that change is needed.

Board member Ayo Harrington expressed the opinion that term limits should be instituted at the state level, just as they were implemented in the City Council.  At age 62, Harrington added, she recognizes that younger people should lead the way through all layers of government with an energy unmatched by an older generation. “New blood is needed to carry anything forward,” she said.  When it comes to furthering the interests of the Lower East Side in Albany, the legislative process moves slowly, said Harrington, who used to work for former Assembly member Steven Sanders. That plodding legislative process, she argued, would not move dramatically faster with or without Silver as speaker. “Nobody’s indispensable and nobody should have a guarantee to be in charge of anything, including Shelly, for life,” Harrington said.

Enrique Cruz, who joined CB3 two years ago, said a future without Silver as speaker could be rough but “it is what it is.”

“I think that it’s a lose-lose situation in the sense that the community is going to lose a powerful speaker and a powerful leader who brought things to the community and I think the institution will be scarred if these allegations come out to be true,” he said. “But, again, the institution is bigger than one person.”

 

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