Sheldon Silver, who has died aged 77, was an influential New York politician whose career ended in disgrace. He died while in federal custody, serving time for corruption charges. He had been suffering from chronic kidney disease and cancer.
After practising as a lawyer for a few years, Silver was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1976 and became speaker in 1994. He held the position for more than two decades, during which he was one of the most powerful politicians in the state.
Silver came to be associated with a “behind closed doors”, non-transparent style of governance but supported causes such as raising the minimum wage and building affordable housing.
Carl Heastie, his successor, paid tribute to Silver, saying: “He was a fighter for his constituents and his work to rebuild lower Manhattan after the terrible events of 9/11 will never be forgotten. I will remember Shelly for his many legislative accomplishments. For years he was the lone voice in the room, pushing back against many regressive policies that would have harmed so many New Yorkers, and he presided over landmark laws to improve the lives of our most vulnerable residents.”
Silver, an Orthodox Jew, sponsored a 1983 law which meant Jewish husbands who did not divorce their wives under Jewish religious law would not be able to obtain civil divorces. When he was Speaker, he was instrumental in the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York State in 1995, but it was ruled unconstitutional by the New York Court of Appeals.
In 2015, Silver was found guilty of accepting almost $4 million (£2.9m) in illicit payments and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Two years later, after an appeal, that conviction was overturned. In 2018 he was retried and convicted to seven years in prison. The following year, an appeals court overturned one portion of his conviction.
Silver entered Otisville prison in New York in August 2020. Due to his health problems, he asked to serve his sentence in home confinement. He was sent home on furlough to await a decision, but public uproar meant he was sent back into prison after just two days.
Describing Silver’s life, Manny Behar, former Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community Council, said: “Sheldon Silver’s corruption is a tragic and shameful part of his legacy. But it does not define his legacy. He deserves to be remembered for the totality of his career.”
Sheldon Silver was born in a working-class New York neighbourhood to Russian immigrants. He graduated from Yeshiva University and earned a degree from Brooklyn Law School.
After he got married, he lived only four blocks away from his childhood home with his wife, Rosa.
He is survived by her and their four children.
Sheldon Silver, former New York state assembly lawmaker, born 13 February 1944, died 24 January 2022