It’s Time to End Sheldon Silver’s Reign of Shame, Part I [OP-ED]

Posted on: June 30th, 2015 at 9:30 am by

This image has been archived or removed.

Sheldon Silver’s puppet show, Photo: Art Y.R. Minor

With his power gutted in Albany, ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has returned home. He is popping up everywhere on the Lower East Side these days, from Lunar New Year celebrations to award ceremonies and ribbon cuttings. These high-profile maneuvers are a calculated effort to whitewash his recent indictment on federal corruption charges in order to maintain a foothold in his Manhattan district.

Silver and his team of lawyers are going to great lengths to profess his innocence and assure his constituents that in an Albany knee-deep in corruption, he will come out clean. Yet, for the first time, Silver sits exposed, finally dragging the 65th Assembly District out of the shadowed cover of his despotic rule.

His long political history is one of promoting division, doling out favors based on patronage, exacting revenge, and advancing the careers of his inner-circle political hacks. Put another way, he served the 65th Assembly District like a mafia don lining his pockets, controlling his captains and amassing unprecedented power while hiding behind the public personae of a modest liberal defender of the people.

As Silver advanced politically, he appointed judges and handed out high-profile jobs, most often to less-than-qualified cronies within his inner circle. He doled out discretionary funds to local not-for-profits supportive of him, and propped up insular organizations like the Lower East Side BID. He steered disreputable Lower East Side landlords to arcane real estate assessment tax breaks and outmaneuvered the court-mandated racial integration of affordable housing by privatizing the co-ops on Grand Street. And while he was paying lip service to constituents vis-à-vis affordable housing and working for the middle class, he pushed through luxury development in Lower Manhattan that favored a menagerie of wealthy and powerful developers.

While Silver was fleecing his constituency, many of whom could least afford to be taken advantage of, he was simultaneously diluting the progressive values and principles of New York City voters, all in effort to grow and retain his power in Albany. He shared a quid pro quo political arrangement (Albany’s back-room politics known as “three men in a room”), which emboldened the control-obsessed Governor and preserved the status quo, while maintaining the respective majorities in the legislative houses, the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led Assembly. Silver’s liberal masquerade camouflaged years of autocratic rule that kept his democratic colleagues in lock-step, yielding him immense power that short-changed New York City voters and left him unchecked and immune to accountability from scandal after scandal.

Finally, we are seeing Silver for what he really is: just another crooked politician taking bribes and serving as battering ram for wealthy campaign contributors, real estate developers, special interests, and his posse of personal cronies. In the annals of New York politics, Silver’s legacy will be plagued by levels of corruption, divisiveness and cronyism that would shame even FIFA.

If convicted of bribery, kickbacks, and extortion as expected, it will confirm what we all have known – that democracy was routinely and methodically subverted in the 65th Assembly District under Silver and his collection of political hacks. Unfortunately, prominent among the latter are Councilmember Chin, whom he has shared a mutually beneficial relationship in vote-rich Chinatown, and the polarizing and divisive Community Board 3 District Manager, Susan Stetzer.

This image has been archived or removed.

Flyer campaign from 2012, Photo: EV Grieve

As his trial date looms, Silver and his political allies are not hiding their plans for the future of the 65th Assembly District. While Silver is peddling his influence quietly, Councilwoman Chin is publicly backing CB3 Chair Li in her run for District Leader against incumbent Jenifer Rajkumar.

Li’s bid for District Leader has little do with serving with integrity in an unpaid post representing the democratic party, but has everything to do with setting herself up to replace Silver, or follow in Chin’s footsteps to City Hall.

Silver’s hubris, stroked by Chin and Stetzer, would be gobsmacking if we hadn’t seen all of this so many times before. Gigi Li’s coronation has been in the making since 2009 when she was handpicked by CB3’s Stetzer and then nursed and weaned by Chin, all with Silver’s blessing.

The status quo is banking on Li to keep in place the political machine that Silver built on top of SPURA, the 30-acre site that he purposely kept fallow for generations, instead of building long-promised affordable housing. Clearly, Silver had calculated that the 1,800 low-income families, (overwhelmingly Latino) who were removed, if allowed to return, would upset the demographics of the neighborhood and jeopardize his political base.

This story has multiple pages:

Recent Stories

Developer Begins Demolition of Rutgers Street Playground for Temporary Parking Lot

Demolition work began this week on a Lower East Side park that is a focal point in the tension between the community and developers on the waterfront. The backhoes are out and job now underway at Rutgers Park, the small public space beside the Lands End II residential development. Removal of the playground began yesterday, including […]

The 3 Lower East Side Walk-ups that Sold for $35M

Earlier this month, we reported that SMA Equities, the Long Island real estate firm with controversial history on the Lower East Side, sold a portfolio of its area properties. SMA unloaded three tenement walk-ups to Daniel Fishman of GAIA Real Estate – 102 Norfolk Street, 177 Ludlow Street, and 99 Allen Street – for an […]

H&M Debuts Pop-up Hotel on the Bowery this Weekend

Fashion retailer, H&M, is headed to the Lower East Side this week with a pop-up hotel concept. Starting tomorrow, prospective guests can access the so-called Hotel Hennes via the eponymous 3 Freeman Alley. The three-day publicity stunt will be open through Saturday, from 2 to 9pm. Guests will be able to check in for an […]

Sneakerhead Arrested for Knifing Customer at Hypebeast ‘HBX’ Opening on Division Street

A watershed moment for Hypebeast transformed into a melee on the Lower East Side last week. The Hong Kong-based fashion and lifestyle publication on Friday officially debuted in the seven-story commercial loft building at 41-43 Division Street. Its ground-level store – dubbed HBX – attracted a queue of sneaker heads waiting for a limited edition Nike […]

Arsonist Torches Eldridge Street Beauty Parlor

Two people were injured yesterday evening after an arsonist set ablaze a beauty parlor on Eldridge Street, according to several published reports. The incident transpired shortly before 5:00pm at the Sa Sa II Beauty Salon, located at 129 Eldridge Street. Cops said the suspect poured gasoline inside the store and set it on fire. (Initial […]