Sheldon Silver, convicted development kingmaker, dies

Powerful former Assembly speaker was brought down by a corruption conviction in 2015

Sheldon Silver (Getty)
Sheldon Silver (Getty)

Sheldon Silver, who as speaker of the Assembly for two decades held tremendous influence over real estate — and abused that influence to benefit prominent developers — died Monday. He was 77.

Silver was serving out a six-and-a-half-year sentence in Massachusetts on federal corruption charges. Though his 2015 conviction on those charges was overturned, the case was later retried and Silver was again found guilty in 2018. The charges of money laundering and extortion stemmed from a scheme that involved two major New York developers, Leonard Litwin’s Glenwood Management and Witkoff Group.

“This was corruption, pure and simple,” Judge Valerie Caproni told Silver during his sentencing hearing.

The arrangement involved asking the developers to steer their tax business to law firm Goldberg & Iryami, which then issued kickbacks to Silver. At the time, Glenwood and Witkoff were lobbying Silver on real estate issues, including 421a developer tax exemptions, which Silver continued to support. Both landlords testified at the time that they were unaware of Silver’s agreement with the law firm. Neither was charged with wrongdoing in the case.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

By signing up, you agree to TheRealDeal Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

The son of a hardware store owner on the Lower East Side, Silver, known widely as “Shelly,” won an Assembly seat representing his neighborhood in 1976. In 1994, he rose to the powerful position of Speaker, becoming one of the fabled “three men in a room” along with the governor and Senate majority leader who were said to broker all deals of consequence.

That ethos in Albany is changing; Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned in the wake of a sexual-harassment scandal late last year, and Senate Majority leader Dean Skelos was also convicted of federal corruption charges.

Assemblyman Charles Lavine told the New York Times that Silver would also be remembered as a defender of New York City, particularly after the 9/11 attacks and in service of the cause of affordable housing. Silver, he added, became “a mythic, tragic hero who did some wonderful things for our state,” but “brought shame on our state and on his name.”