Opinion: Shed no tears for Sheldon Silver, or those in Albany who turned a blind eye

I’m not sad about Sheldon Silver.

Just like I’m not sad about the passing of Vito Lopez, as much as I’m upset for the women he abused. Sadness implies empathy for Silver at the expense of his victims, and robs him of responsibility for his crimes. As if the possibility of a life sentence somehow diminishes the 40 years he spent earning it.

For the various elected officials and others who have expressed sadness for Silver, there is perhaps a misconception that corruption is a victimless crime, or at least one in which the victim is an abstraction. Whereas Lopez may have violated the women who worked for him, Silver simply violated the “public trust." 

But Lopez and Silver’s crimes are not mutually exclusive. The unchecked power that allowed Silver to manufacture personal profit from a taxpayer-subsidized slush fund is exactly what enabled him to protect sexual predators over female staff. It’s an extension of the very corruption he was convicted of.

Silver’s crimes were only possible because his colleagues in the Assembly, and the two other “men in the room,” accepted it as politics as usual. These enablers had to be comfortable with Silver’s defense that corruption is “conduct which is normal, conduct which allows government to function.” Or what U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has deemed a “culture of corruption.”

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut down the Moreland Commission last summer in exchange for a weak ethics deal, it was egregious proof of Bharara’s claim.

Despite brazenly obstructing the commission’s work, the governor now contends that his actions actually helped convict Silver, telling a room full of students at Harvard that “one of the state leaders was indicted because of one of the laws that I passed that required more disclosure.”

But on Tuesday, Cuomo contradicted himself by suggesting that the same ethics laws he had no problem taking credit for would not deter a public official with corrupt intentions. “I don’t care how strong the law is,” he said. “If a person is going to break the law, a person is going to break the law.” If that’s so, then why wouldn’t Cuomo let the Moreland Commission, which he convened to “investigate and prosecute wrongdoing,” continue its work? In a feat of Cuomoian logic he countered, “The Moreland Commission was not an investigative, prosecutorial, commission.”


In reality, the only reason Silver’s career finally ended is because one person refused to tolerate the pervasive quid pro quo in Albany. Mere hours after Silver’s guilty verdict, Bharara accepted an award at the Citizens Crime Commission, where he quoted Teddy Roosevelt who served in the New York State Assembly from 1882-1884: “No man who is corrupt, no man who condones corruption in others, can possibly do his duty by the community.”

What happened to Silver is not sad. It’s justice.

Alexis Grenell is a Democratic communications strategist based in New York. Find her on Twitter @agrenell.