Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver entered a cramped conference room late yesterday afternoon to a round of applause from about 50 constituents and proceeded to moderate his task force on overcrowding in the downtown schools with an eerie calm, showing no apparent signs of unease despite the arrest two days earlier of his son-in-law on federal charges of running a $7 million Ponzi scheme.
“That’s Shelly for you,” said Paul Hovitz, co-chair of the youth and education committee for Community Board 1, who was present at the meeting on the 22nd floor of a Lower Broadway skyscraper that houses Silver’s 65th Assembly District office and other government agencies. “I thought he was excellent. All I noticed was that his left eyelid twitched.”
Silver’s daughter, Michelle, a certified public accountant, could also be charged in the alleged securities fraud scheme, according to news reports.
B+B asked Silver immediately after the meeting if he considered his own prosecution by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on corruption charges as politically motivated. “I don’t want to comment on that right now,” he said in his gravelly voice, adding without hesitation: “I’m confident that I will be vindicated.”
Another reporter asked him: “How does it feel after all you’ve been through to walk into this room and get applause?”
Silver, 71, replied softly. “I think people understand that I’m going to do the best I can to represent them in the best way I can.”
During the meeting, he seemed most animated in responding to issues posed by Wendy Chapman, a downtown parent and co-founder of an advocacy group called Build Schools Now who called Lower Manhattan the “one of most desirable neighborhoods” in New York City and one experiencing “tremendous growth. We have to think of what China might do.”
Silver noted, “I’ve talked to the real estate board and I’ve told them that people won’t come here unless you [help] build schools,” he said. He also expressed concerns about the costs of school construction “going up dramatically” throughout the city. “If you go to places in Brooklyn, you can’t buy on the cheap anymore.”
Chapman later told us that Silver was “highly engaged” during the meeting. “He has done more good for the schools downtown” than most elected officials, she said. She declined to discuss Silver’s legal problems.
Silver was forced to step down as speaker in January after his arrest on federal charges of pocketing nearly $4 million in alleged kickbacks disguised as legitimate income from two law firms over a 15-year period. He has retained his assembly seat. A second hearing on the case will be held May 7 before U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in the Thurgood Marshall Building in Foley Square.