Sheldon "Shelly" Silver (born February 13, 1944) is a former lawyer and Democratic Party politician from New York, who rose to become the powerful Speaker of the New York State Assembly in 1994 until his arrest on federal corruption charges in 2015. After his resignation as Speaker, he was convicted of all charges, expelled from the Assembly, disbarred, fined $7 million and sentenced to 12 years in prison, though his legal appeals were continuing.

Early life

An Orthodox Jew whose parents were Russian immigrants, Silver has lived all his life on Manhattan's Lower East Side. He graduated from the Rabbi Jacob Joseph High School on Henry Street, where he was captain of the basketball team. Silver graduated from Yeshiva University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1965, and received his J.D. from Brooklyn Law School in 1968.[1][2]

Law career

Silver practiced law with the firm of Schecter and Schwartz from 1968 until 1971, and then served as law secretary for New York City Civil Court Judge Francis N. Pecora from 1971 to 1976. In addition to Silver's duties in the New York State Assembly from 1977 to 2015, he was "of counsel" at Weitz & Luxenberg, one of New York State's largest personal injury litigation firms.[3] For years, Weitz & Luxenberg insisted that Silver's ties with the firm were negligible. In 2007, the New York Post charged that Silver's refusal to disclose the details of his employment, or the income he received, raised suspicions of a conflict of interest.[4] This income ultimately led to his arrest, resignation as Speaker, and prison sentence.

Political career


He was first elected to the Assembly in 1976 and rose to key committee leadership positions. He represented the Assembly District variously numbered as 62nd through 65th, comprising much of Lower Manhattan, notably the Financial District and the former World Trade Center site.

During the election years of his speakership, 1994–2014, Silver's district typically re-elected him with 80 to 90 percent of the vote.[5] In 2008, he had his first Democratic primary challenge in over two decades, winning 69 percent, or 7,037 votes, to defeat his challengers, Paul Newell, who earned 22 percent (2,401 votes), and Luke Henry with 9 percent (891).[6][7] Silver was re-elected on November 4 with 27,632 votes. His Republican challenger, Danniel Maio, received 7,387 votes.[5]

Speaker of New York State Assembly

On February 11, 1994, after Saul Weprin died from a stroke, Silver became the Speaker of the New York State Assembly. He was re-elected 11 times.

Death penalty

As Speaker, Silver was instrumental in the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York State in 1995. It was eventually ruled unconstitutional by the New York Court of Appeals in 2004 (see People v. LaValle), as the law stipulated that if jurors were deadlocked between sentences of life without parole and execution, the court would sentence the defendant to life imprisonment with parole eligibility after serving 20 to 25 years. The Court ruled that in such a case, execution would seem unfairly preferable to the jury. New York's crime rate had dropped significantly in the decade since the law was passed, without seeing a single execution, and Silver let the law expire without much debate.[8] In December 2005, after two New York City police officers were killed in as many months, Governor George Pataki called for another reinstatement of the death penalty. The New York Times quoted Silver's spokesman Charles Carrier as saying, "He no longer supports it because Assembly hearings have shown it is not the most effective way to improve public safety."[9]

Rent control

In 1997 and throughout his Assembly career, Silver was a key advocate of state-administered rent regulation of New York apartments. This complex and highly politicized system made the Speaker a central figure, continually courted by major participants in the real-estate industry.[10]

Commuter tax

In 1999, Silver was instrumental in the repeal of New York City's commuter tax, which taxed non-resident workers similarly to city residents. The repeal was a great benefit to those commuting to work in the city from surrounding areas, but came at a substantial cost to New York City residents. Silver was criticized by city leaders for removing the tax, and though after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks he suggested he would support reinstating it,[11] he took no steps to do so.

Attempted "coup" and criticism

In 2000, Silver faced an attempted "coup" in the Assembly as members, primarily from Upstate New York and dissatisfied with his leadership style, tried to overthrow him as Speaker. Michael Bragman, the leader of the backlash, lost his position as majority leader. An editorial in The Buffalo News, written in response, criticized Silver for having too much power:

The problem—which also exists in the State Senate—can be boiled down to a single overarching issue: The Assembly speaker has too much power. He controls everything, from the legislation that can be voted on to how his normally docile members vote on it. He decides what the Assembly will accept in a state budget. He negotiates secretly with the other two leaders to hammer out important, expensive and far-reaching laws. And he ignores the wishes of less-exalted lawmakers.[12]

Similar criticisms of New York State's "three men in a room" have been widespread for years.[13][14][15][16][17][18]

New York congestion tolls

In July 2007, Silver was skeptical about Mayor Michael Bloomberg's New York congestion pricing program. When a meeting of the Democratic Assembly Conference indicated the proposal lacked sufficient support, Silver declined to schedule a vote on the measure, and it died. Although he stated that he "probably would have voted for the bill," a majority of his conference opposed the proposed plan.[19] Proponents argued that it would reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions, lead to less-crowded streets, and raise much-needed funds for public transportation, while opponents objected to the notion of a new driving tax.

Mixed martial arts

Silver, in his role as Speaker, was widely blamed for the delay in passing A04146A through the Assembly to legalize professional mixed martial arts in New York State.[20][21] Since 2011, Silver and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman aligned with the UNITE HERE labor union in opposition to the MMA promoters, and prevented the bill from reaching the floor for a vote.[22][23] New York finally became the last of the 50 states to allow the sport in early 2016, after Silver's expulsion from the Assembly.[24]

Failure to investigate sexual harassment

A former top aide to Silver, chief counsel J. Michael Boxley, was accused of raping two legislative aides while he was working for the Speaker, and Boxley eventually pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct. Silver was sued for failing to investigate the accusations properly and for tolerating a culture of sexual harassment in the Assembly. In 2006, Silver and the Assembly leadership agreed to pay $500,000 to settle the lawsuit.[25] Similar settlements in 2012 and 2015 resulted from multiple harassment charges against former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, and Silver was accused of not acting forcefully to prevent Lopez’s behavior. Silver apologized for not reporting cases to the Assembly's Ethics Committee as required, and said that since then he "put in place new policies to ensure these incidents are dealt with swiftly and transparently."[26][27]

Criminal charges and resignation as Assembly Speaker

On January 7, 2015, Silver was elected Speaker for the 11th time, with almost unanimous support from the Democratic majority despite a federal probe into his outside income.[28]

On January 22, Silver was arrested on federal corruption charges.[29] The federal inquiry, which followed the state's abruptly disbanded Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, focused on large payments that Silver received for years from a law firm that specialized in seeking reductions of New York City real-estate taxes. Investigators led by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara charged that Silver did not properly disclose the payments from the firm, Goldberg & Iryami, on his annual financial disclosure filings with the state. The firm's major client was the state’s single-largest political donor, while the founding partner Jay Goldberg was Silver's former Assembly counsel, and partner Dara Iryami agreed to testify under immunity.[30]

Similar charges involved millions of dollars in asbestos lawsuit-related referral fees that Silver received from the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg,[31][32][33] which announced that it was placing him on leave.[34][35] One of his longtime associates, Brian Meara, provided key information to investigators in exchange for a non-prosecution agreement,[36] as did the physician involved in the asbestos cases, Robert Taub.[29]

On January 30, after a week of intense political pressure and dwindling support, Silver submitted his resignation as Speaker, effective February 2, while retaining his position as Assembly Member[37] and vowing to fight the charges against him. On February 3, the Assembly elected Carl Heastie as the new Speaker.[38]

On April 25, 2015, Silver was indicted on additional charges of making illegal investments through private vehicles, netting a profit of $750,000.[39] He pleaded not guilty to those charges three days later, on April 28.[40]

Legal consequences

On November 30, 2015, a unanimous jury found Silver guilty on all seven counts, triggering automatic expulsion from the Assembly.[41] In advance of his sentencing, he was disbarred by the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, which handles judicial and attorney misconduct, on March 29, 2016.[42]

On May 3, 2016, Judge Valerie E. Caproni sentenced Silver to 12 years in jail, and ordered him to pay $5.3 million in ill-gotten gains and $1.75 million in additional fines. Silver received two prison terms: 12 years for six criminal counts against him and 10 years on the seventh, to run concurrently. Silver was ordered to begin serving his sentence by July 1, 2016, though his legal appeals were continuing.[43][44] His imprisonment date was later postponed to August 31.[45]

Personal life

Silver and his wife Rosa, a former special needs schoolteacher, have four adult children.[46][47] According to court papers unsealed during the sentencing phase of his trial, Silver is alleged to have had two extra-marital affairs, both of which were connected to his Albany position.[48]

By the time he became Speaker of the Assembly, he was known to play basketball with other high-ranking officials, including former Governor Mario Cuomo and former Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi.[49]

Two weeks after Silver's criminal conviction, a son-in-law was sentenced to prison for a separate multimillion-dollar crime, also prosecuted by Bharara's office.[50]


  1. ^ Fisher, Ian (November 22, 1994). "With Cuomo's Loss, Speaker Is Top Democrat in Albany". New York Times. 
  2. ^ Hakim, Danny; Kaplan, Thomas (May 20, 2013). "Bad Week Is Merely Bump for Assembly's Master of Power". New York Times. 
  3. ^ "Sheldon Silver: Profile". Weitz & Luxenberg. Archived from the original on November 22, 2008. Retrieved February 23, 2015.  CS1 maint: Unfit url (link)
  4. ^ "The Speaker's Day Job". New York Post. March 20, 2007. Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b "Election Results (1994–2014)". New York State Board of Elections. Retrieved February 23, 2015. 
  6. ^ Gray, Geoffrey (June 1, 2008). "The Obstructionist". New York Magazine. 
  7. ^ "Statement and Return Report for Certification" (PDF). Board of Elections in the City of New York. September 22, 2008. 
  8. ^ "Capital Punishment, 1995–2005, editorial". New York Daily News. April 13, 2005. 
  9. ^ Hu, Winnie (December 17, 2005). "Pataki Wants Death Penalty for Killers of Police". New York Times. 
  10. ^ Barbanel, Josh (January 25, 2015). "Speaker's Woes Leave Tenant Advocates Wary". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  11. ^ "The Tax Whose Time Has Gone". New York Fiscal Watch. Manhattan Institute. January 19, 2002. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  12. ^ "The Winner and Still King". Buffalo News. May 25, 2000. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  13. ^ Lachman, Seymour P.; Polner, Robert (2006). Three Men in a Room: The Inside Story of Power and Betrayal in an American Statehouse. New Press. ISBN 9781595580320. 
  14. ^ "Legislature isn't sinister, look beyond the surface". Herald American. Syracuse, N.Y. December 4, 1994. Budgets and policy bills are negotiated by 'three men in a room' who are not challenged by the members dependent on leadership resources. Reform is clearly needed. 
  15. ^ "Rank and File of Albany Chafing at Their Bit Parts". New York Times. January 3, 1998. In New York, budget negotiations are derisively known as 'three men in a room.' The Senate majority leader, Assembly Speaker and their hand-picked staffs do all of the haggling with the Governor, all in private. Legislative committees sit on the sidelines, receiving much of their information from newspaper articles. 
  16. ^ "Reforming Albany the Right Way". New York Daily News. November 29, 2004. Only when talks are concluded do the public and rank-and-file lawmakers get a clue as to what was on the table. This three-men-in-a-room process has been decried for years, and 20 years of late budgets more than proves it doesn't work. 
  17. ^ "Aqueduct gaming report rips Paterson, Senate leadership". Times Union (Albany). October 21, 2010. Much of the corruption, Fisch noted, was enabled by special rules devised in 2008. They enshrined the power of the so-called 'three men in a room' – at the time, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Silver and Republican Majority Leader Joseph Bruno – to a degree that was unusual even by Albany's lax ethical standards. 
  18. ^ "Silver & Skelos: New York's corruption-trial double feature". New York Post. November 16, 2015. As recently as January, the two pols (along with the governor) made up the infamous 'three men in a room' – the trio that secretively makes all the decisions in Albany. 
  19. ^ Paybarah, Azi (April 9, 2008). "Congestion Drip: Is Sheldon Silver the Man to Blame?". New York Observer. Retrieved February 1, 2015. 
  20. ^ Okamoto, Brett (June 16, 2011). "Fertitta on NY: 'It's clear we have the votes'". ESPN. Retrieved February 1, 2015. 
  21. ^ Iole, Kevin (May 28, 2012). "MMA in New York? Not until assembly speaker Sheldon Silver's gone...". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved August 2, 2013. 
  22. ^ McMorris, Bill (March 13, 2013). "Union Fighting Championship". Washington Free Beacon. Retrieved February 1, 2015. 
  23. ^ "The Unions' Battle Against Mixed Martial Arts (And New Yorkers)". Mediaite. March 28, 2013. Retrieved August 2, 2013. 
  24. ^ Hamilton, Matthew (April 14, 2016). "New York KO's ban on professional MMA fights". Times Union (Albany). 
  25. ^ Hakim, Danny (July 14, 2008). "Two Accusers of an Ex-Aide Join an Effort to Oust Silver". New York Times. 
  26. ^ Hakim, Danny (August 30, 2012). "2 Women Received $32,000 From Assemblyman, Beyond Money From State". New York Times. Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
  27. ^ McKinley, Jesse (February 6, 2015). "Harassment Suit Against Former Assemblyman Vito Lopez and Sheldon Silver Is Settled". New York Times. Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
  28. ^ Campanile, Carl (January 7, 2015). "Sheldon Silver elected to 11th term as speaker, despite probe". New York Post. Retrieved February 23, 2015. 
  29. ^ a b Craig, Susanne (January 22, 2015). "Complaint Details How Silver Earned Millions From Obscure Legal Work". New York Times. Retrieved January 31, 2015. 
  30. ^ Matthews, Brad (January 23, 2015). "New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver arrested on corruption charges by the FBI". Watchdog Arena. Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  31. ^ Rashbaum, William K.; Kaplan, Thomas (January 22, 2015). "Sheldon Silver, Assembly Speaker, Took Millions in Payoffs, U.S. Says". New York Times. Retrieved January 26, 2015. 
  32. ^ Calder, Rich; Campanile, Carl; Short, Aaron; Golding, Bruce (January 22, 2015). "Sheldon Silver arrested for taking $4M in bribes, kickbacks". New York Post. Retrieved January 26, 2015. 
  33. ^ Klepper, David (January 23, 2015). "Top N.Y. politician's arrest prompts calls for ethics overhaul". Miami Herald. Associated Press. Retrieved January 26, 2015. 
  34. ^ Kaplan, Thomas (January 28, 2015). "Sheldon Silver Taking Leave of Absence From Law Firm". New York Times. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  35. ^ Short, Aaron; Campanile, Carl (January 29, 2015). "'Shocked' law firm gives Sheldon Silver the boot". New York Post. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  36. ^ Campanile, Carl; Schram, Jamie; Golding, Bruce (January 23, 2015). "Close friend, top lobbyist helped feds take down Sheldon Silver". New York Post. Retrieved January 26, 2015. 
  37. ^ "Silver to Resign as Speaker on Monday". NY1 News. January 30, 2015. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  38. ^ Kaplan, Thomas (February 3, 2015). "New Speaker in Albany: A Skilled Operator, Embracing Change". New York Times. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  39. ^ Hofmann, Tess (April 24, 2015). "Silver Hit With New Charges". The Real Deal: New York Real Estate News. 
  40. ^ Mueller, Benjamin (April 28, 2015). "Sheldon Silver Pleads Not Guilty to Newest Charge". New York Times. 
  41. ^ Weiser, Benjamin; Craig, Susanne (November 30, 2015). "Sheldon Silver, Ex-New York Assembly Speaker, Is Found Guilty on All Counts". New York Times. Retrieved November 30, 2015. 
  42. ^ "Sheldon Silver, Ex-New York Assembly Speaker, Is Disbarred". New York Times. Associated Press. March 29, 2016. Retrieved March 30, 2016. 
  43. ^ Whitehouse, Kaja; Eustachewich, Lia (May 3, 2016). "Sheldon Silver gets 12 years in prison for corruption". New York Post. 
  44. ^ Weiser, Benjamin; Yee, Vivian (May 3, 2016). "Sheldon Silver, Ex-New York Assembly Speaker, Gets 12-Year Prison Sentence". New York Times. 
  45. ^ Bekiempis, Victoria (May 18, 2016). "Judge pushes back start date for Sheldon Silver's 12-year prison sentence to end of summer". New York Daily News. 
  46. ^ Fears, Danica (January 23, 2015). "Sheldon Silver's Wealth a Well-Kept Secret". New York Post. 
  47. ^ Breidenbach, Michelle (January 22, 2015). "Sheldon Silver: The Man Upstaters Love to Hate". Syracuse Post-Standard. 
  48. ^ Weiser, Benjamin (April 15, 2016). "U.S. Cites Extramarital Affairs as Misuse of Power in Sheldon Silver Case". New York Times. Retrieved April 18, 2016. 
  49. ^ Shapiro, Rachel (July 10, 2014). "Assembly Speaker Silver's Goldmine". The Jewish Voice. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 
  50. ^ Larson, Erik (December 16, 2015). "Sheldon Silver's Son-in-Law Gets 2 Years for Running Ponzi Scam". Bloomberg News. Retrieved December 17, 2015. 

External links

New York Assembly
Preceded by
Anthony G. DiFalco
New York State Assembly
63rd District

Succeeded by
Steven Sanders
Preceded by
Paul M. Viggiano
New York State Assembly
62nd District

Succeeded by
Robert Straniere
Preceded by
Richard N. Gottfried
New York State Assembly
64th District

Succeeded by
Nicole Malliotakis
Preceded by
Micah Kellner
New York State Assembly
65th District

Succeeded by
Alice Cancel
Preceded by
Saul Weprin
New York State Assembly
Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means

Succeeded by
Herman D. Farrell, Jr.
Political offices
Preceded by
Saul Weprin
Speaker of the New York State Assembly
Succeeded by
Carl Heastie