ALBANY -- The conviction of Assemb. Sheldon Silver Monday capped a precipitous fall from power for one of the dominant New York politicians of the past two decades.
Silver (D-Manhattan) commanded the Assembly for 20 years, lasted through five governors and five State Senate leaders. But he went from controlling the flow of thousands of bills and grants, doling out plum committee assignments and negotiating tiny details in $142 billion state budgets to going out of office after failing to beat corruption charges brought by a federal prosecutor armed with cooperating witnesses.
After being convicted of federal corruption charges, Silver automatically loses his Assembly seat representing his lower Manhattan district, an office he had held since 1977. His colleagues had forced him to resign as Assembly speaker days after he was arrested in January, though he had maintained his elected office.
Silver, who didn't testify at trial, is expected to appeal. His lawyers didn't present a defense in the case, prompting speculation they were holding back for an appeal in which they would challenge the law used to charge Silver. That was a path former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno used to eventually gain acquittal on corruption charges.
The son of Russian immigrants, Silver, 71, grew up and still lives on Manhattan's Lower East Side. His father ran a hardware store; his mother was a housewife.
Silver was captain of his high school basketball team and an avid pickup basketball player for years. He's well-known as a New York Rangers hockey fan. He lives on Grand Street with his wife, Rosa, once a city schoolteacher; they have four children. (A son-in-law in July pleaded guilty to cheating investors of nearly $6 million in a Ponzi scheme.)
Silver earned a bachelor's degree from Yeshiva University and a law degree from Brooklyn Law School before going into politics. He lost a New York City Council race in 1974, but won his Assembly seat in 1976.
He succeeded Saul Weprin as speaker in 1994 after Weprin was felled by a stroke. Initially, Silver was considered an "interim" officeholder, depending on whether Weprin could resume his duties, which he couldn't.
Through the years, Silver became a leading voice for liberal causes, fighting for more school aid, prekindergarten expansion, a "millionaires' tax" on high earners and rollback of Rockefeller-era drug laws. He also was blamed for extraordinarily late state budgets and was criticized by some who saw him as anti-business and the voice of trial lawyers.
As speaker, Silver was one of the "three men in a room" -- along with the governor and Senate leader -- who controlled the budget and flow of legislation. In every instance, he called for more spending, especially on schools, welfare and the environment.
He was called many names over the years. The Sphinx. An enigma. A master of political chess in Albany. Or, for some, the man who outlasts governors.
On Groundhog Day (one day before he was to be voted out as speaker), Silver was leaving the Assembly chamber when asked by reporters for his thoughts. He said: "There are no thoughts. I've had a great run."