Foss: Celebrate Sheldon Silver going to prison

Sheldon Silver arrives at court for his sentencing in New York on May 3, 2016. GREGG VIGLIOTTI/THE NEW YORK TIMES

Sheldon Silver arrives at court for his sentencing in New York on May 3, 2016. GREGG VIGLIOTTI/THE NEW YORK TIMES

Categories: News, Opinion, Sara Foss, The Daily Gazette

Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver might be a criminal, but he’s also a very clever man.

I never truly believed he would spend one day behind bars, despite being twice convicted on federal corruption charges.

First convicted in 2015, and then re-convicted three years later after his original conviction was overturned on appeal, I assumed Silver would keep finding ways to delay and avoid going to prison. Earlier this summer, the 76-year-old requested home confinement, saying he didn’t want to die in prison.

Frankly, I was as surprised as anyone when this pitiful plea fell upon deaf ears.

“His time has come,” Judge Valerie Caproni said in July, at Silver’s sentencing. “He needs to go to jail.”

On Wednesday, he did.

Silver’s punishment is much deserved, and seeing him finally report to federal prison in Otisville is deeply satisfying. 

As Assembly Speaker, he wielded an enormous amount of power, while also using his office for personal gain.

Silver’s opaque and autocratic style of governance is impossible to separate from the personal failings that led him to enrich himself at taxpayers’ expense, pocketing more than $4 million in a complex bribery scheme. He did everything he could to quash reform and fend off scrutiny, and it’s clear he was motivated by self-interest.

Silver’s imprisonment completes his disgraceful fall from power, and it’s also an urgent reminder of the ongoing need to reform New York state government.

Silver isn’t an outlier – he’s headed to the same state prison where former Senate Majority leader Dean Skelos and Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both reside.

Like Silver, Skelos and Percoco were brought down by corruption schemes.

The three men join a long list of New York public officials who have been charged or convicted of crimes in recent years.

It’s a lamentable state of affairs, but I’m feeling oddly encouraged by Silver’s incarceration, in part because it’s so unexpected.

Our criminal justice system doesn’t always function as well as it should, and one can argue that Silver was given too many breaks. He was allowed to live at home while the appeals process played out – a privilege rarely, if ever, extended to the less powerful.

Now he’s going to prison – a welcome example of the system working to hold a rich and powerful person accountable.

For a long time, it appeared that Silver was above the law.

Then he was convicted, and it seemed he might escape punishment.

Those days are over.

Sheldon Silver has finally – finally! – been held accountable for his crimes.

It’s sad that it took this long.

But it’s also something all New Yorkers can celebrate.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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