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Editorial: No mercy for Silver

Editorial: No mercy for Silver

Former Assembly speaker deliberately abused the public's trust for personal gain, now it's time to pay the price.
Editorial: No mercy for Silver
Sheldon Silver arrives at court for his sentencing in New York on May 3, 2016.
Photographer: GREGG VIGLIOTTI/THE NEW YORK TIMES

For years, he used the vast power bestowed upon him by the voters of his district and the leadership authority entrusted to him by his fellow legislators to grant special favors to wealthy associates and line his pockets to the tune of millions of dollars.

He sold his office to the highest bidder. He made rubes of his supporters and made a mockery of state government. 

He turned public service into his own personal ATM.

And now that he’s facing the consequences of his actions, he’s whining for mercy. Frankly, it’s too late for that.

In two separate trials, former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was found guilty in connection with a decade-long bribery-and-kickback scheme in which he was able to procure millions of dollars in referral fees for his law firm in exchange for using his power as one of New York’s three most powerful politicians to direct state actions that benefited a cancer doctor and two real estate developers. In all, it’s estimated the deals were worth $3 million to $4 million.

On Friday, Silver will be sentenced in federal court and could face a decade or more in prison, virtually ensuring the 75-year-old disgraced politician never again sees the light of day.

Last week, he pleaded with the judge in a letter to allow him to avoid dying in prison and instead allow him to serve a “meaningful custodial sentence” by performing “rigorous community service” to help New Yorkers navigate the government bureaucracy.

“I worry about my grandchildren and how they will be treated because of me. I worry that my wife will be destitute. I worry about her trying to visit me while continuing to be a full-time helper for her 93-year-old mother. I worry about my own age and health,” he wrote.

Perhaps he should have thought of all that before he started taking kickbacks in exchange for legislation. 

He knew what he was doing was wrong. But he did it anyway. And he didn’t do it just once. This wasn’t a temporary break from sanity or a youthful indiscretion. It was a deliberate pattern of conduct by an experienced politician over 10 years. He already had his chance at community service, and he blew it.

If Silver were anything other than a wealthy old white man with many powerful friends, this wouldn’t even be a discussion. Like any other criminal, he’d be going to prison for the term his crimes warrant. 

Imagine what message it would send to other politicians, and to the citizens of New York, if Silver is allowed to skate away from a deserved prison sentence because he’s really, really sorry and promises not to do it again.

Sheldon Silver’s crimes warrant justice.

Only a lengthy prison sentence will suffice.

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