The trial of Sheldon Silver, once New York State’s most powerful Jewish politician, gets underway today in Manhattan federal court with jury selection.
Silver, of New York City’s Lower East Side, is charged in an insidious $4 million corruption scandal that, among other things, accuses him of funneling a grant to a cancer doctor, who referred his asbestos patients back to a law firm with ties to the Democrat.
“The show-me-the-money culture of Albany has been perpetuated and promoted at the very top of the political food chain,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told reporters when Silver was indicted in January. Silver, a Democrat, stepped down as Speaker of the legislative body soon after.
Silver was one of Albany’ (New York’s capital) so-called three men in a room, a concept that essentially said that nothing got done in the Empire State unless three politicians, often behind closed doors, agreed to fund it. The other two are the state’s governor, and the state Senate’s majority leader.
“If you are one of the three people in the room, you have all the power and everyone knows it,” Bharara has said, in railing against the political clubroom.
“Why three men?” he asked. “Can there be a woman? Do they always have to be white?”
Indeed, soon after Silver was indicted, so was Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, was also indicted in a corruption scandal. And he, too, stepped aside from leadership post. His trial starts Nov. 16.
That makes Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo the last of the three men standing. Bharara would only say “stay tuned” when asked if more pols are to charged.
Silver, 71, was first elected to the Assembly in 1976 and became Speaker in 1994, a position he held until he resigned after the indictment.
An Orthodox Jew, he is the son of Russian immigrants. He graduated from Rabbi Jacob Joseph High School in Manhattan, went on to Yeshiva University, and holds law degree from Brooklyn Law School in 1968.
Silver’s trial is set to last four to six weeks.
John Oswald is The Forward’s deputy digital media editor.