Is he the greatest villain in New York political history?


STATEN ISLAND, NY – He was arguably one of New York’s most powerful politicians since the infamous William “Boss” Tweed.

And like Tweed, his own political venality is remembered today more than anything he did to help the public.

His personal corruption aside, his political crimes have caused lasting damage to the state, the city and Staten Island.

His ill-advised political gamble more than two decades ago continues to cost New York City hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue every year.

He crushed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan without ever letting him vote in the state legislature.

It killed a West Side stadium project and therefore New York’s chances of hosting the Summer Olympics in 2012.

He ignominiously blocked the renovation of the 1/9 subway station at South Ferry following the September 11 attacks.

He put an end to the Staten Island secession movement.

He is the former Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver.


Silver was the undisputed leader of the Assembly from 1994 to 2015, when corruption charges finally brought him down.

During this time, he was one of the extremely powerful “three men in a room”, along with the governor and majority leader in the state Senate, who shared the spoils of the state budget each year.

No legislation could go forward without Silver’s consent. The members of the Assembly voted as he had told them.

His ability to rule by executive order has been seen time and time again, but the costliest case was when Silver spearheaded the suburban tax repeal in 1999.

Commuters get on and off a New Jersey Transit train at Newark Penn Station. (Larry Higgs /

The commuter tax was a 0.45% levy on the income of commuters who traveled to town for work.

The logic was that the workers benefited from New York City Police and Fire Protection and Sanitation Services while on the job, so they should help pay for it all.

The commuter tax has brought about $ 360 million to the city’s treasury each year.

Politics, not economics, fueled Silver’s decision to scuttle the tax.

The seat of retired GOP state senator Joseph Holland in Rockland County was up for election that year. The Republican candidate who presents himself opposed the suburban tax. To help the Democratic candidate be more competitive in the race, Silver called for the tax to be repealed.

But Silver’s bet fell through and the seat remained in Republicans’ hands. Meanwhile, the state coffers are $ 7.2 billion, and growing poorer due to the suburban tax repeal.

It could be argued that the congestion pricing plan currently under review may not be necessary if commuter tax revenues continue to flow.


Speaking of congestion pricing, Silver also killed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal in 2008, a proposal that predates the one currently under consideration.

Bloomberg’s plan would have charged motorists $ 8 and truckers $ 21 to enter Manhattan below 60th Street.

The silver lining for the Staten Islanders and other drivers in the Outer Borough was that as part of Bloomberg’s program, all tolls paid on the way to the congestion zone would offset the fee, thereby eliminating the congestion fee altogether. for many.

With key help from City Council President Christine Quinn, Bloomberg saw her congestion pricing plan approved by council.

All that was left for a pilot congestion pricing program to move forward was for the state legislature to agree.

That’s where Silver stepped in, rejecting the proposal without even putting it to a vote. Silver said there was little support for congestion pricing in the assembly.

The move killed congestion pricing and dragged past Council lawmakers who had publicly voted for it, even though their constituents were against it.

There is no indication that the current congestion pricing plan under review by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will include toll exclusions for motorists in outer boroughs.


It wasn’t the only time Silver cut her legs under Bloomberg.

In 2005, the mayor led efforts to make New York City host to the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The centerpiece of the city’s land was the construction of a new 80,000-seat stadium on the West Side of Manhattan.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2005 pitched for New York to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. (Monika Graff / Staten Island Advance)

Once the Olympics were over, the new stadium, complete with a retractable roof and other amenities, would be the New York Jets’ new home, meaning that at least one of the two New York NFL teams would play. New York, not New Jersey. .

The unanimous approval of the Public Authorities Control Council of the three Member States was needed for the stadium plan to move forward. While GOP Governor George Pataki’s representative on the board voted in favor, representatives for Silver and GOP State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno rejected the vote.

Silver had said that New York’s Olympic bid was a long shot and that he didn’t see a great need for a West Side stadium.

The scuttling of the stadium doomed New York’s Olympic bid. London won the ballot to host the 2012 Summer Games. And the Jets still play in New Jersey and still share a stadium with the New York Giants.


Silver in 1994 refused to allow assembly lawmakers to vote on whether Staten Island should secede from the other four boroughs, even if then-government. Mario Cuomo said he would sign a secession law if it ever made it to his office.

One man’s money thwarted the will of tens of thousands on Staten Island who overwhelmingly voted in favor of secession exploration.

The district charter commission in 1994 submitted a bill to the state assembly and senate to create a city of Staten Island.

In this 1994 photo, Governor Mario Cuomo, seated, has just signed a measure authorizing a study and initiating the process of secession of Staten Island from New York City. Shaking hands with Cuomo, left, is State Senator John J. Marchi. Applauding the signing are, from left, MP Elizabeth A. Connelly, Staten Island College President Edmond Volpe and MPs Robert Straniere and Eric Vitaliano. (Irving Silverstein / Staten Island Advance)

But Silver said he wouldn’t allow the bill to be put to a vote without a city rule message from the city, which would amount to killing secession because Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the president council at the time, Peter Vallone, both opposed secession.

Silver’s diet edict was challenged in court to no avail, and the secession movement died.


In another blatant slap in the face to Staten Islanders, Silver in 2004 blocked the $ 400 million reconstruction of the 1/9 subway station at South Ferry, a reconstruction that was part of the city’s recovery from the 9/11 attacks. . Tens of thousands of Island commuters use the station every day.

Silver said the improvements to South Ferry were not tied to the damage caused by the 9/11 attacks, but that the Federal Department of Transportation, MTA, Bloomberg and Pataki all agreed to allocate the $ 400 million. dollars at South Ferry station.

Silver has denied accusations that he wanted to direct the money instead to his Second Avenue pet subway project.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, right, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announce the South Ferry 1/9 subway station deal in 2004. (Frank Johns / Staten Island Advance)

Silver eventually ceded on South Ferry in exchange for $ 15 million in upgrades to Battery Park.

But the island snub was clear: When the funding deal was announced, then GOP representative Vito Fossella, who had publicly stood up to Silver, was clearly not invited to the conference. Press. Pataki was also ruled out.


It all fell apart for Silver in 2015, when he was arrested on federal corruption charges related to his outside legal work, including his work with a large asbestos company in the city.

Silver was convicted in two separate trials, but served less than a year in prison before being put on leave during the COVID-19 outbreak. He is serving the remainder of his six and a half year sentence in house arrest on the Lower East Side.

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