Downtown loses its power broker: Sheldon Silver

Photo by Mike Groll/Associated Press Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in Albany on Monday, the day more and more Assembly Democrats called on him to resign his leadership post.

Photo by Mike Groll/Associated Press
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in Albany on Monday, right after he left a meeting with Assembly Democrats, so thy could deliberate his fate.

BY JOSH ROGERS  |  Last year when Downtown school advocates renewed their battle to get more classroom space in the Schools Chancellor’s conference room, Sheldon Silver, their most powerful ally, had a simple solution for the school leader: Use my conference room across the street.

Although the idea was rejected by Chancellor Carmen Farina, Assembly Speaker Silver did say he was able to get her to agree to more class space in her Tweed Courthouse headquarters for later this year.

It was just one of many instances where Silver used his clout in Albany to get results on local issues in his Lower Manhattan district. It’s an enormous power that Downtown lost Tuesday when the speaker agreed to give up his leadership post after the feds accused him of using his power to illegally rake in nearly $4 million.

If convicted, Silver, 70, faces at least 20 years in jail.

“Frankly I think Downtown should be draped in black,” said Paul Hovitz, one of the school advocates who worries about the effect of Silver’s loss of power. 

He said if convicted, Silver of course should go, but he feels the speaker is “being tried in the press” and shouldn’t have been pressured to give up the leadership position.

There were many calls for him to resign from the state and on editorial boards immediately after the charges were first reported Jan. 22, but Downtown, there seemed to be a sense of shock and unwillingness to go that far. (State Sen. Brad Hoylman’s tweet calling for a resignation last week was a notable exception.)

Even Democratic District Leader Paul Newell, who challenged Silver in 2008, emphasized the problems of legislators getting outside pay, but he was careful not to call for Silver to leave unless the accusations were true.

By Sunday he and his fellow leaders of Downtown Independent Democrats, called for Silver to give up his leadership post.

Silver has maintained he will be vindicated and on Tuesday he said he had no plans to give up his Assembly seat. His district covers FiDi, the Seaport, Chinatown most of Battery Park City, and much of the Lower East Side, where he lives.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron, like many Downtown leaders has been mostly quiet since news broke, but he this released this statement Wednesday:

“There’s no question the charges are serious and disturbing. As with all allegations against public officials, it’s sad for the state and people’s faith in their government. In this case, it’s particularly acute in Lower Manhattan where he has been a stalwart for rebuilding, schools, and beyond. As the state heads into its budget negotiations, I hope the Assembly leadership can focus without distraction and earn the confidence of New Yorkers across the state.”

Tammy Meltzer, a Community Board 1 member, said last week that she hopes the charges are not true, but regardless it “does not diminish all of the good work he’s done for Lower Manhattan….

“I am torn between being hopeful that he will have the power he has had because the charges prove to be incorrect, and worry what it will mean for Lower Manhattan,” she said. “Speaker Silver has been an amazing advocate.”

She and Hovitz have served on the speaker’s School Overcrowding Task Force, which has successfully pushed the city Dept. of Education to build more schools in Lower Manhattan, the city’s fastest growing area.

Hovitz said he hoped the task force would continue, but that was one of many things he was wondering about now.

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