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BY KEN PASKAR | Speaker Sheldon Silver is being pilloried in the press for accusations of corruption, and I felt it’s time to take a hard look at the allegations being leveled against Silver and see them for what they are: character assassination, pure and simple. Lost in the ruckus is all the good that he has done for his constituents and the State of New York.
That goodwill was shouted down by the rhetoric that has filled the air since news of the criminal complaint and the subsequent arrest became public.
The New York media could hardly contain its glee in seeing Silver being accused of “kickbacks.” One newspaper went so far as to say, “It was a pleasure to see Sheldon Silver in handcuffs. For his offenses against New Yorkers have long been criminal.”
The media took its cue from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who exclaimed that he was on a mission from God to clean up Albany single-handedly: “These charges go to the very core of what ails Albany,” he said, “a lack of transparency, lack of accountability and a lack of principle joined with an over-abundance of greed, cronyism and self-dealing.”
What is also lacking, however, is a single shred of evidence as to how “corruption in Albany” is connected in any manner to the charges brought against Speaker Silver. This is jury-pool tainting, fry’em in the court of public opinion and damn the facts — basically, full-speed-ahead political one-up-manship.
As a constituent of Speaker Silver, I have a slightly different view of recent events. I cannot find the words to express the extent of my appreciation and gratitude for all that he has done for Lower Manhattan. Let’s remember, during his tenure as speaker, he had to deal with the first World Trade Center bombing, then 9/11, Superstorm Sandy and Occupy Wall Street, to name just of a few the events that not only affected his constituency, but the world as whole.
He was able to get his constituency — my neighborhood, my community — the help it needed to put the community back together again after each of these events. Without his guidance and leadership, I am convinced that we in Lower Manhattan would not be where we are today.
I do realize that when you are in position of great power, people who are jealous of that power will try hard and long to knock you out. That is what happened here.
Let’s take a look at how the latest round of Silver-bashing got started. In an attempt to gain political leverage over the Assembly speaker, Gov- ernor Cuomo formed the Moreland Commission, the ostensible purpose of which was to root out corruption in Albany. By doing so, Cuomo sought to portray himself as a new Teddy Roosevelt taking on Tammany Hall politicians. In retrospect, one gets the sense that the Moreland Commission was formed so that Cuomo could ram his budget through the Assembly without having to deal with Assembly Speaker Silver. Political blackmail, if you will.
Bharara, a man eager to claim a political scalp to help support his own ambitions, grabbed the documents collected by the Moreland Commission when it shut down. This was his chance. If this case succeeds, he will probably be a big enough name to be considered for U.S attorney general in the next administration, no matter which party takes the White House. This naked ambition is all the more apparent after Bharara’s recent announcement that there may be more arrests.
It is perfectly legal for an attorney to accept referral fees for cases he does not work on — how those fees are paid is between the law firm and the attor- ney. There are many, many attorneys — especially in “of counsel” positions, like Speaker Silver — who do little work and receive millions of dollars in referral fees. This is the way the legal business is run.
Let’s also deal with the terminology here. Calling what Assembly Speaker is accused of doing a “kickback scheme” stretches the concept of a kickback. A kickback is what then-Governor Spiro Agnew did when he demanded that vending-machine operators in state buildings pay him 5 cents on every cigarette pack sold. That’s a kickback.
By leveling trumped-up charges of fraud, the sole intent of the powers that be seems to be to push Assembly Speaker Silver off of his pedestal, so that they can install their own person, who will be much more compliant to their wishes.
But the U.S attorney has a long way to go before he can hang the Assembly Speaker’s scalp on his wall. All I ask is: let’s have the trial (if it does not get tossed out before then) in the court and not in the public.
A man who has been a great benefactor to his constituents and the citizens of New York State deserves to be given respect and not have his reputation tarnished by scurrilous accusations.
While I expect nothing less from the media, the words and actions of the U.S. attorney are especially troubling and out of place. The lack of respect shown for the Assembly speaker and the legal process that Bharara and the F.B.I. showed was shameful. There is a time and a place for U.S. attorneys to do their celebration dances. This is not one of them.
Bharara and the F.B.I.’s preening in front of cameras was a deplorable display, reminiscent of elementary schoolboys who had just gotten out of school for the summer. They brought shame to their agencies, agencies which I deeply respect and admire, and to those who appointed them to those positions.
In his 20 years as Assembly speaker and his almost 40 years as a member of the New York State Assembly, Silver did much good for his constituency and for the State of New York. His work — the public’s work — demands that he be given the proper respect, and not be subjected to the carnival atmosphere that the U.S. attorney and the F.B.I. created.
Ken Paskar is vice president, Lower Manhattan Democrats