Lament, on the one hand, and vitriol, on the other, greeted news that former Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was found guilty on federal corruption charges related to his time in office.
Paul A. Tokasz of Cheektowaga, Silver’s second-in-command for five years as majority leader of the Assembly, called Monday’s verdict “sad on many levels, understandable on other levels.”
“Unfortunately, he will be remembered for this as opposed to all the good the delegation and he did for Western New York,” he said.
Others, like former gubernatorial candidate Carl P. Paladino, were more than ready to proclaim “vindication” for years of pointed criticism of Silver.
“This day will go down in history as a day of infamy,” Paladino said, proclaiming Silver as “crooked as the day is long.”
Silver was first elected to the Assembly nearly 40 years ago and served more than half that time as Assembly speaker, arguably making him the most powerful man in New York politics until he was forced to resign after his arrest in January. His conviction Monday on seven counts of honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering came after five-week long trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan.
“This is not the person I knew,” said Tokasz “but this verdict has been made perfectly clear by the unanimous decision of a jury on seven counts.”
Tokasz recited a litany of projects he said were initiated by the Western New York delegation and that were supported by the speaker. They include hundreds of millions of dollars for Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Shea’s Performing Arts Center, the Hauptmann-Woodward Institute, Burchfield Penney Art Center, statewide pre-K education, and seed money for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
On the other end of the political spectrum, Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter of Amherst said Silver’s conviction highlights a desperate need for real reform in the state Legislature.
“Absolute power leads to corruption; no one should ever be able to amass the power that Silver wielded these last 20 years. We need to enact serious reforms that will open up the legislative process and limit the amount of power one person can accumulate,” Walter said in a written statement.
The Assembly Minority Conference earlier this year proposed some rules changes, including imposing term limits on leaders which, Walter said, were rejected by the Democratic majority.
“What’s most disturbing is that Silver still will collect his taxpayer-funded pension. It should be a top priority in the Legislature to enact pension forfeiture laws immediately, Walter added.
Meanwhile, Democratic Assemblyman Sean Ryan of Buffalo said Silver’s downfall should be a clear signal to Albany that both chambers of the state Legislature need to reform rules to severely restrict outside employment.
“Sheldon Silver took advantage of the system, and used his official position for his own personal profit. He was able to do it because there are no restrictions on outside employment and lax conflict of interest rules,” said Ryan in a statement Monday.
Another local Democrat and a veteran of 38 years in the Assembly, Robin L. Schimminger of Kenmore, said he expects an appeal of the guilty verdict and predicted the “final chapter has yet to be written.”
“I was surprised by the verdict, but I have faith in the judicial system,” he said.
Paladino expressed no such surprise to Monday’s verdict. During his statewide gubernatorial campaign, the current Buffalo School Board member accused Silver of a “terrible, terrible conflict of interest” by blocking reforms that would prevent him from collecting fees from his private legal practice. Paladino said then he will not “play in that sandbox.”
“I’m going to turn him upside down and shake out every dollar he’s stolen,” Paladino said in 2010. “I’m going to put him on a bus – hopefully to Attica – and if not, far, far away. We’re going to bring back democracy that hasn’t been co-opted by the sandbox.”
On Monday, Paladino was only slightly more subdued. He recalled the flak he said he incurred from New York City reporters in 2010 for criticizing Silver, and proclaimed Monday as “an awesome day for the people of the State of New York.” “Hopefully, this will have an impact with those people in Albany and maybe we get a better quality of person in the job,” Paladino added.