By Queens Tribune Staff
Several members of the Queens Assembly delegation spoke out on the sentencing of former Speaker Sheldon Silver, and took the opportunity to make another call for reform, though none went into any specifics as to what reforms should be passed.
Silver was found guilty on seven corruption charges on Monday and could face more than 20 years in prison.
Silver served as speaker from 1994 until February of this year – the second longest term for a speaker in state history. He had just been elected to another term as speaker, with all but one Democrat in the caucus voting for him, when he was arrested on Jan. 22 and indicted on seven counts stemming from a scheme where he received hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from a law firm which he used his influence to convince real estate developers to hire. The charges also covered a separate scheme where a law firm representing mesothelioma patients would share a portions of its fees with Silver after a doctor whom Silver would allocate state grants to would refer his patients to the firm.
The case was prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has successfully prosecuted several other state legislators, including former state Sen. Malcolm Smith, for attempting to bribe his way onto the GOP ballot for mayor in 2013.
In response to the verdict, the Queens Tribune reached out to each member of the borough’s Assembly delegation, all Democrats supported Silver for speaker several weeks before his arrest, except for freshman Alicia Hyndman, who was elected in a special election last month to replace Assemblyman Bill Scarborough, who was forced out of office after pleading guilty to corruption charges.
Only two members responded with comments, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) declined to comment on the Silver verdict and the rest of the delegation did not respond as of press time.
“This week’s verdict not only means that justice has been served, but that there are consequences for abusing the public’s trust. This is a critical moment for state government in needing to move forward on meaningful reform measures and systemic change,” said Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) who was part of a group of newer members to first call on Silver to step down as Speaker of the Assembly.
Rozic said she hoped the verdict would renew calls for ethics reform in Albany.
“With the 2016 session upon us, there is opportunity now to bring about transparency, further ethics reform, and prevent a repeat cycle of events that tarnish New Yorker’s trust in a legislative body meant to serve as their voice,” she said.
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) echoed the call for reform.
“This violation of the public trust is a dark stain on the Assembly,” she said. “Serious reform is needed to restore the integrity of our state government.”
Silver is just the latest in a string of state legislators who have been forced out of their jobs due to corruption charges. Former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Long Island) is currently standing trial for allegedly using his influence to help his son, Adam, make hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.
Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), who took over for Silver when he stepped down as speaker earlier this year, said he was “saddened” by the verdict.
“Words simply aren’t enough,” he said. “We will continue to work to root out corruption and demand more of elected officials when it comes to ethical conduct. The Assembly Majority remains committed to exploring ideas and implementing reforms to restore trust in our government.”