Ex-NY Assembly Speaker Dies During Corruption Sentence

Sheldon Silver was 77
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 24, 2022 7:05 PM CST
Former NY Assembly Speaker Dies in Federal Custody
In this March 30, 2012 photo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, left, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos laugh during a news conference at the Capitol in Albany, NY.   (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

(Newser) – 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, the AP reports. 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. 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 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. Over time, he became a symbol of Albany’s much-maligned opaque style of governance and, ultimately, a target of federal prosecutors.

Prosecutors accused Silver of trading his influence for money. In one instance, they argued that Silver persuaded a physician to refer asbestos cancer patients to his law firm so it could seek multimillion-dollar settlements in personal injury lawsuits, a secret arrangement that allowed him to collect about $3 million in referral fees. His original 2015 conviction was tossed out by an appeals court after a US Supreme Court ruling that narrowed the definition of a corrupt act. He was convicted again at a second trial in 2018 tailored slightly to conform to the high court ruling. Silver was furloughed from prison for several days in May before federal authorities denied him home confinement. (Read more Sheldon Silver stories.)

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