Former assemblyman Sheldon Silver was convicted of fraud, bribery, and extortion in 2015. But his lawyers argued yesterday before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that a Supreme Court decision in 2016 changed the parameters of his prosecution and that his conviction should be overturned.
Prosecutors in 2015 argued that a variety of actions by Silver were “official acts” influenced by personal dealings, intermingling state grant disbursements and rent control legislation with things like finding a job for the son of a doctor who pushed business to Silver’s law firm. And jury instructions in that trial similarly did not make any distinction between those activities.
But a 2016 decision by the Supreme Court acquitted Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell by narrowing the definition of “official acts” to include only acts performed as an official, like passing legislation, not things like setting up meetings between individuals.
Silver did both. But because the instructions to the jury were broader than the subsequent Supreme Court decision allow, there’s no way to know how the jury reached its decision.
As I understand it, the Second Circuit could let the conviction stand, overturn it, or allow for a new trial under the more stringent definition of “official acts”.
Silver was sentenced last year to 12 years in prison, but he has remained at home in Hillman pending appeal.
At issue is whether Silver’s help getting state funding for cancer specialist Dr. Robert N. Taub in exchange for litigation cases for Silver’s law firm (and referral fees for Silver) constituted “official acts” according to a narrow definition of that term adopted by the Supreme Court last year (McDonnell v. United States).
By the way, the Lo-Down helpfully pointed out that Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Goldstein, who took the lead in prosecuting Silver in 2015, is still in charge of the case even after Preet Bharara’s dismissal last week as U.S. Attorney.
But there’s a loophole for our neighbor Sheldon Silver, convicted in 2015 on federal corruption charges: the new rules would apply only to crimes committed on or after January 1, 2018.
Sheldon Silver currently lives at home, awaiting appeal, collecting a state pension of $79,222. Even if this constitutional amendment is approved, and even if Silver starts to serve out his 12-year prison sentence, New York taxpayers will continue to pay.
Despite being the official Democratic candidate, Alice Cancel has had a hard time picking up endorsements from Democratic elected officials. (Even her current boss, Comptroller Scott Stringer, has endorsed Niou, which Cancel called a “back-room deal.”) But this week councilwoman Rosie Mendez, a Cancel backer from the start, persuaded her colleague Margaret Chin to join her in endorsing Cancel. But there’s a catch: Chin supports community board 3 chair Gigi Li, who is already running for this seat for the September primary. So Chin’s endorsement lasts only until April 19; after that, even if Cancel wins, Chin says she’ll support Li.
Yesterday’s New York Times looks at the special elections in Manhattan and Long Island to replace convicted felons Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos and finds a key difference: no potential Skelos successor is willing to stick up for him, while the Democratic candidate to replace Silver has called him a “hero” and dismisses his conviction on federal corruption charges as something “in his private life.”
It’s a sign that Silver’s reputation as a defender of the community — in particular, a reliable supplier of state funds to local charities and public projects — may withstand the revelations that he was eager to leverage his office for personal profit.
In fact, Silver is still able to influence old friends and allies from the Grand Street establishment by advocating for the woman who would succeed him, Alice Cancel, the Democratic nominee in the April 19 special election. The Times quoted a source from the Truman Democratic Club (headquartered above Frank’s bike shop) who says that Silver and his chief of staff Judy Rapfogel (an East River cooperator) personally appealed to Democratic delegates to vote for Cancel. Cancel was selected overwhelmingly at a meeting of the local Democratic committee two weeks ago.
Cancel will have two opponents in the April 19 election: Democrat Yuh-Line Niou, running on the Working Families line, and Republican Lester Cheng. Because of our district’s high percentage of registered Democrats, most people expect Silver’s candidate, Cancel, to win.
That evidence was put forward by federal prosecutors last fall but denied to jurors through successful arguments by Silver’s defense attorneys. Freedom of Information Act requests by the New York Times and NBC now put Judge Valerie E. Caproni in the position of deciding how to balance the rights of privacy for people named in those motions and the right of the public to have all the information gathered by lawyers from both sides. Judge Caproni seems to be leaning toward releasing all material but redacting the names of anyone not introduced formally as part of the trial.
The timeline calls for expeditious release, within the next two weeks.
Democratic Committee members will meet this Sunday to designate a nominee for the April 19 special election to fill Sheldon Silver’s vacated seat in the state assembly. Given our district’s high percentage of registered Democrats, their pick will likely become our next representative in Albany.
There’s no official sign-up sheet for candidates, but the Lo-Down has been tracking potential contenders. Notably, there is no candidate from Grand Street, and the local Truman Club — one of four major Democratic clubs in the district — has not endorsed any of the people currently seeking the party designation.
Committee members will meet Sunday starting at 2:00 at the Manny Cantor Center on East Broadway. After nominations, ballots will be taken until one candidate reaches a majority. After each ballot, the lowest vote-getter will be dropped from the next ballot.
The governor has called for a special election on April 19 to fill the Assembly seat vacated by Sheldon Silver upon his criminal conviction last year.
Democratic and Republican insiders will select nominees to appear on the ballot at upcoming party conventions. With the district’s high percentage of Democratic voters, it is expected that whomever is chosen by the Democratic County Committee will fill the seat for the remainder of Silver’s term. A handful of candidates are already jockeying for support and raising money; others were waiting until the governor set the election date.
One thing that could inject some drama into the public side of this campaign is that April 19 is the same day as the presidential primary, with all the unusual politics of that race. The Working Families Party has endorsed Bernie Sanders, and is likely to campaign heavily for him in the WFP’s home city; could a candidate for Assembly get an outsider’s boost on the WFP line? (And who will Donald Trump endorse?)
Anyone who wins in April will be up for election again this fall for a full 2-year term. A regular party primary in September will precede the November election.
Looking for the skinny on what it was like inside the Silver jury room, when not one but two jurors asked to be excused from the trial after closing arguments had already been made?
Reporter Zack Fink has a long read in City & State about Silver’s trial and conviction on seven counts of corruption, including comments from one juror who claims to have helped persuade the lone hold-out that Silver had committed crimes — and done so knowingly.
If you’re a fan of Law & Order, or fixated on our local political tragedy, you’ll want to read this article.
An April 18 special election would need to be called by Gov. Cuomo within the next couple weeks. Cuomo originally announced that date to coincide with the presidential primary, so that polling places could do double-duty and save some money, but apparently New York City’s Board of Elections may be unprepared to run a federal and state election on the same day.
A special election could be held on another date that polls will already be open, June 28, which is the primary for Congressional seats, though by then the legislative session will be over.
There could be no special election, in which case the seat will remain empty all year.
Whether there is a special election or not, the Assembly seat will be up again during the regular fall cycle, with a primary in September and election day this year on November 8.
As for possible contenders, the Lo-Down reports on a “growing field of candidates … maneuvering to replace Sheldon Silver in Albany,” including Paul Newell, who ran an unsuccessful primary against Silver in 2008; Jenifer Rajkumar, who unsucessfully challenged city council member Margaret Chin in 2013; Gigi Li, the CB3 chairperson who unsuccessfully challenged Rajkumar for district leader in 2015; and John Bal, who lost to Silver in a 1986 primary.