Assembly Speaker Finds Fall Guy: Another Sheldon Silver
By RUSS BUETTNER MAY 22, 2014
To Sheldon Silver, the powerful speaker of the New York State Assembly, it was nothing but a simple case of mistaken identity.
In the 1970s, Mr. Silver, a Democrat, worked with a new nonprofit group, the United Jewish Council of the East Side, to block low-income housing on a large, barren site in his district on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the beginning of a decades-long effort that was described in a recent article in The New York Times.
From that article describing the ancient alliance between Speaker Silver and William E. Rapfogel of the publicly-supported Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty:
The long-ago walk [in 1977] was the first public display of an alliance that became central to the lives and careers of both Mr. Rapfogel and Mr. Silver. They worked together across the decades while climbing parallel ladders: Mr. Silver to Assembly speaker and Mr. Rapfogel to leadership of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, a large, publicly financed charity.
But their long affiliation came to an abrupt end last year when Mr. Rapfogel, 59, was arrested and charged in a scheme that had allegedly looted more than $7 million in kickbacks from Met Council’s insurance broker over the years. He is due back in court in April.
The arrest cast new light on a relationship about which little was known beyond the obvious: Mr. Silver has funneled millions of public dollars to the organization that Mr. Rapfogel led, and he employs Mr. Rapfogel’s wife, Judy, as his chief of staff.
A primary focus of their alliance had been a struggle to preserve the Jewish identity of the neighborhood they delivered for Mr. Koch all those years ago.
Their battleground was some 20 barren acres along the southern side of Delancey Street, where, in 1967, the city leveled blocks of rundown apartment buildings. More than 1,800 low-income families, largely Puerto Rican, were sent packing and promised a chance to return to new apartments someday. Now, nearly 50 years later, the land is still a fallow stretch of weed- and rat-ridden parking lots, though in the waning days of the Bloomberg administration, the city announced that the land would finally be developed into a complex called Essex Crossing, to include retail markets, restaurants, office and cultural space. And new apartments. ...
|The future Essex Crossing|
But an extensive review of the archives of four mayors and more than two dozen interviews show Mr. Silver and Mr. Rapfogel diligently working behind the scenes to promote specific plans and favored developers. Mr. Rapfogel made clear that the goal was to maintain the area’s Jewish identity, seemingly at the expense of other communities.
Mr. Silver and Mr. Rapfogel steadfastly opposed any mention of affordable housing, which would have altered the demographics of the neighborhood and put Mr. Silver’s political base in question. And Mr. Silver appears to have occasionally misrepresented the desires of his Chinese and Hispanic constituents in conversations with city officials to quash housing plans for the site.
“They’re the reason that this site has been empty for 50 years,” said Edward Delgado, known as Tito, who was a teenager when the city cleared the blocks and his family was evicted. He has been advocating for affordable homes at the site in the decades since.
From today's follow-up article:
Those actions, Mr. Silver insisted after the article was published, were actually taken by another man: Sheldon E. Silver, a Minneapolis-born lawyer who moved to Brooklyn in the early 1970s and died in 2001.
“I was forever confused with this guy,” Mr. Silver said at a breakfast he hosted on Thursday at the state Democratic Party convention. “Even after he left there, I got phone calls from people who I knew.”
Mr. Silver’s spokesman, Michael Whyland, said in an email that the other Mr. Silver “was a counsel to U.J.C. in the ’70s and early ’80s.”
“You can understand why he would be upset,” Mr. Whyland said in a subsequent telephone call.
But the documents cited in the article make clear that Speaker Silver — a master at distancing himself from controversies and scandals in his chamber — was in fact the person who pressed New York City officials to allow an international mall to be built on the site, instead of low-income housing. The letter quoted was written on his official stationery from the Assembly. And minutes of the meetings with city officials clearly identify Mr. Silver as the lawmaker, not the similarly named lawyer from Brooklyn.
After Mr. Silver’s office saw those documents, it dropped its request for a correction on which Mr. Silver pressed for the mall in the 1970s.