Former NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Dies in Prison at 77 - The Jewish Voice
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Former NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Dies in Prison at 77

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By: Michael Hill & Michael Balsamo

Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, one of the most powerful figures in state government for two decades before his conviction on corruption charges, has died in federal custody. He was 77.

Silver died Monday, the federal Bureau of Prisons said, adding that the official cause of death would be determined by the medical examiner.

Silver’s supporters had said he was in failing health from multiple medical conditions. He had been serving his sentence at the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Massachusetts, but was in a hospital in nearby Ayer, Massachusetts, at the time of his death, the bureau said.

The Manhattan Democrat, who told a judge he prayed he would not die in prison, was serving a more than six-year sentence for using his clout in state government to benefit real estate developers, who rewarded Silver by referring lucrative business to his law firm.

Silver’s conviction ended a nearly four-decade career in the Assembly. He first won a seat representing Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1976. Although he cut a low-key figure in the halls of the state Capitol, carefully parsing out comments in a baritone mumble, he was a consummate practitioner of Albany’s inside game.

He became Assembly speaker in 1994, a powerful position that made him one of Albany’s “three men in a room” negotiating annual budgets and major legislation with the governor and state Senate leader.

In all, Silver served as speaker during the tenure of five New York governors, from Mario Cuomo to Andrew Cuomo.

He became known as an inscrutable and stubborn negotiator, blocking proposals so often he was sometimes called “Dr. No.” Some of his obstructionist reputation had to do with being the lone Democrat at the negotiating table during Republican Gov. George Pataki’s three terms, during which time the GOP also controlled the state Senate.

He helped scuttle former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s plan to locate a football stadium on Manhattan’s West Side. And he took the brunt of the blame for the collapse in 2008 of Bloomberg’s congestion-pricing plan for Manhattan, which would have charged electronic tolls for driving through the borough’s most highly trafficked neighborhoods.

The exasperated mayor put out a press release saying it “takes a special kind of cowardice” not to have lawmakers vote on the plan. Silver said he didn’t have the votes.

He survived an early tenure coup attempt and became adept at horse-trading to secure education funding, tenants rights legislation and other policies favored by Assembly Democrats.

“For more than two decades, he held back a tide of repressive legislation while advancing an agenda that provided equity, justice and opportunity for all,” Democratic Assembly member Kevin Cahill of the Hudson Valley said in a prepared statement.

An Orthodox Jew, Silver was known to observe Sabbath even during the marathon negotiation sessions that preceded annual budget deadlines and the end of legislative sessions.

(AP)

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