ALBANY, New York (AP) — Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, one of the most powerful figures in state government two decades before his conviction on corruption charges, has died in federal prison. He was 77.
Silver died on Monday, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. This person could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
The Manhattan Democrat who told a judge he was praying he wouldn’t die in prison was serving more than six years in a federal prison.
He was convicted of using his influence in state government to benefit real estate developers, who rewarded Silver by turning the lucrative business over to his law firm.
Silver’s supporters have said that he has been in poor health lately and has been susceptible to contracting COVID-19. In May, he was fired for several days before federal authorities denied him home confinement.
Silver’s conviction ended his almost four decades of career in the Assembly. He first won a seat representing Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1976. Although he occupied a modest figure in the state capitol halls, carefully analyzing comments in a baritone voice, he was a consummate practitioner of Albany’s inner game.
He was elected Speaker of the Assembly in 1994, a powerful position that put him on par with the governor and leader of the state Senate when it came to making key decisions about the annual budget or basic laws.
Overall, Silver served as speaker during the tenures of five New York governors, from Mario Cuomo to Andrew Cuomo.
He became known as an incomprehensible and stubborn negotiator, blocking proposals so often that he was sometimes referred to as “the doctor”. No.” Part of his obstructionist reputation came from being the only Democrat at the negotiating table during Republican Governor George Pataki’s three terms, during which the Republican Party also controlled the State Senate. But not all of them.
He helped thwart former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s plan to locate a football stadium on Manhattan’s West Side. And he took most of the blame for the collapse in 2008 of Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan for Manhattan, which called for electronic tolling for the busiest neighborhoods in the area.
The exasperated mayor issued a press release saying “special cowardice is required” to keep lawmakers from voting on the plan. Silver said he had no votes.
He survived an early coup attempt and became adept at horse trading to secure education funding, tenant rights legislation, and other Assembly Democrat-approved policies. An Orthodox Jew, Silver was known to keep the Sabbath even during the marathon negotiations that preceded the annual budget deadlines and the end of parliamentary sessions.
Over time, he became a symbol of Albany’s opaque management style, which was so reviled, and, ultimately, became the target of federal prosecutors.
The prosecutor’s office accused Silver of exchanging his influence for money. In one case, they alleged that Silver convinced a doctor to refer asbestos cancer patients to his law firm so it could seek multimillion-dollar personal injury claims, a secret arrangement that allowed him to receive about $3 million in referral fees. In response, prosecutors said he sent hundreds of thousands of dollars in government grants to a research center run by a doctor.
Silver’s lawyer argued that his client had the right to receive payment for part-time work.
His original conviction, handed down in 2015, was overturned by an appeals court following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that narrowed the definition of an act of corruption. He was convicted again in a second trial in 2018, slightly modified to match the Supreme Court’s ruling.
But an appeals court ultimately overturned the asbestos cancer patients’ convictions, citing faulty juror instructions. Prosecutors decided not to retry him on this charge. In part of his conviction, the court found that he supported a law that benefited real estate developers who referred tax cases to the law firm where he worked.
Silver stepped down from his leadership post after being arrested in January 2015 and lost his seat in the legislature following his first conviction in November of that year.
Silver has joined a long list of state legislators, including other top leaders, who have been convicted of crimes including bribery, conspiracy, tax evasion, fraud and racketeering. One of the leaders with whom he shared power during his term as Speaker, Republican State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, was convicted of extortion, wire fraud and bribery in a case that was going through courts around the same time. time, which is Silver’s case.
Silver pleaded for clemency before sentencing in a letter to the judge.
“I pray that I don’t die in prison,” Silver wrote, saying he was “heartbroken” for undermining people’s trust in the government.
Silver was the youngest of four children of Russian emigrants. His father owned a wholesale hardware store. As an adult, he and his wife had four children and lived in apartment buildings in lower Manhattan from their first home.
He received a bachelor’s degree from Yeshiva University and a law degree from Brooklyn Law School.
Balsamo reported from Washington.