To suggest that Sheldon Silver is a political hack is the equivalent of stating that August in New York can be hot and sticky. Both assertions simply state the obvious. The difference is that New Yorkers can escape the lethargy of midsummer. But there is no escaping the unhealthy effects of Mr. Silver’s lugubrious tenure as speaker of the State Assembly.
If there is a new idea about how to improve state government, Sheldon Silver is there to stop it. If there is a new argument against the status quo, Mr. Silver is there to crush it. If there is a bold new project that threatens the established order, Mr. Silver is there to block it.
Mr. Silver has been an obstacle to reform for far too long. It’s time for him to be relieved of the speaker’s job. If the voters of the Lower East Side wish him to continue as their Assembly member, that’s their call. But it’s clear that Mr. Silver has been a disaster for the city, and thus, for the entire state. As one of the three elected officials who put together the state budget, Mr. Silver has failed to be the advocate New York City needs.
There’s no question that Mr. Silver is a wily ward heeler, somebody who has been careful to cultivate the fertile electoral fields around Grand Street. Supporters and aides have prospered through their connection to the speaker. But for the rest of us, Shelly Silver has been a catastrophe.
Mr. Silver’s incomprehensible resistance to Mayor Bloomberg’s plan for congestion pricing is just the latest example of his knee-jerk opposition to anything that smacks of innovation. During his term as speaker, Mr. Silver has blocked, or attempted to block, meaningful reform in the public schools, tort reform (and here let it be noted that he works for the personal injury law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg), stiffer penalties for child molesters, the appointment of a truly independent state comptroller to replace Alan Hevesi and any number of attempts to bring greater transparency to the opaque world of Albany politics.
To cite a small but telling example of his lack of leadership, Mr. Silver refuses to make his tax returns public. He acts as if he has something to hide. As a result, taxpayers have no idea how much money he makes from Weitz & Luxenberg or any other employer.
Although a small-time politician at heart, Mr. Silver has the clout to stop big-time projects. He has resisted the process of converting the old Farley Post Office into Moynihan Station. And it was Mr. Silver who personally blocked the proposed football stadium on the West Side in 2005. Only once during his time as speaker has Mr. Silver worked hard to change the status quo, and he succeeded. In 1999, he went along with Republican-backed legislation to eliminate the city’s commuter tax, which brought in $450 million a year. Shelly Silver costs the city half a billion dollars every year. Who says one person can’t make a difference in politics anymore?
Clearly, lots of people owe Mr. Silver; otherwise, he would not have survived the spectacular messes he has made. But the people who keep Mr. Silver in power are the very people who keep the “good” out of good government.
Mr. Silver obviously is well-entrenched. And it will take more than mere shame—an emotion with which he is not associated—to persuade him that his time has come.