By Alan S. Chartock | May 14, 2021

Shelly Silver

I can’t stop thinking about Shelly Silver. He got seven years in prison for an illegal quid pro quo arrangement. It came down to something Ike, “Doctor, I’ll get you some money for your mesothelioma work if you send some of your patients to my law practice.” He shouldn’t have done that. He put into words what should never have been uttered. He was guilty of having said it and that violates not only the laws of the land, but the rules of common sense. It was just dumb and corrupt.

If you know anything about the New York State legislature, you know that lawmakers trade getting stuff done for money and/or power all the time. We know that the lobbyists ask for things and then the people who pay the lobbyists send money to support individual candidates.

Shelly is an old man who was done in by his hubris and arrogance. He broke the code of legislative life and in so doing, he crossed the line. He got the attention of the authorities and they threw the book at him. This was done to assure the people that all was well with their government. My students would regularly tell me that their parents hated the legislature because “…they’re all a bunch of crooks.” It may not have been true of all of them, but there’s no question that the legislature is unpopular.

Anyway, he ended up in prison for seven years. For an old man, that was basically a life sentence. Now don’t you suggest that I am defending him. That isn’t even a little bit true. His sin was just a more blatant example of the kind of arrangement between public political power and individual greed that goes on all the time. Does every legislator do it? Of course not, but the trick is to play it around the margins.

After all, it really wasn’t that long ago that Shelly was the king. His word was law. Now he has descended from the very top of the mountain to the confines of a jail cell.

I suspect the powers that be are unhappy about Shelly’s seven years in the can. So many of them, either now serving or having graduated from serving in the legislature, know that it could have been them being wheeled around the prison. They are fearful and filled with guilt.

So Shelly began to get help. First, from Donald Trump who must have been muttering about Shelly’s plight, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Apparently Trump tried to pardon Shelly at the same time he was pardoning his Republican sycophants but the reaction from his side of the aisle was very negative and Trump gave up.

Shelly went to jail but then COVID hit. He was temporarily furloughed to his home to serve out his prison sentence under house arrest. Needless to say, the outrage from all the Shelly haters and good moral people was pretty great. Why just him? What about everybody else?

So there sits Sheldon Silver. Apparently, he has few friends. I once had a Congressman friend, someone I really loved and admired. He got caught up in the ABSCAM mess. I went to visit him in federal prison. Let’s just say that in his case, there really was a good deal of proof that he never did what he was accused of. I purposely took a speaking engagement near his prison and he asked me to bring him some quarters for the Coke machine. I filled my pockets with so many quarters that I could hardly walk. To this day, I believe that my bad back may have resulted from that trip. In any case, unlike so many of you, I feel sorry for Shelly and I feel bad that his arrogance let him down this path.

Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected].