By declining to vote on Bloomberg’s congestion-pricing plan, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver forfeited $354 million for mass transit, killed an admittedly controversial dream — and seemed to once again fulfill his role as the state government’s resident stick-in-the-mud. So is the guy a spiteful opponent of anything that smacks of progress? History actually reveals him to be a survivalist, practicing an extreme form of Albany orthodoxy: He’d rather let ideas of any stripe die than force his 107-member caucus to pick a side (or, more rashly, work with Republicans). Nobody likes to bring a vote unless it’s a lock to pass, but Silver has worked this preference into a philosophy. And so we took a walk down memory lane to highlight some of Speaker Silver’s greatest whiffs.
Shushing doctors on HIV-positive babies (1994): Deflecting a proposal by Assembly member Nettie Mayersohn to require doctors to inform parents whose newborns test positive HIV, Silver works out a compromise that instructs physicians to encourage moms to get themselves tested, just in case.
Strong-arming Rudy over Strong Island (1994): Staten Island politicians tried to secede from the city, which they felt ate up their tax dollars. When Governor Cuomo double-dared the breakaways to show their hands in the Capitol, Silver, whose call the vote was, demanded that newly elected Rudy Giuliani and the City Council first submit a “home rule message” agreeing that the city wanted to shake loose its most Republican borough — knowing Rudy couldn’t afford to lose the Island’s tax base or its GOP votes. The idea died.
Controlling rent-control (1997): As old rent-control protections faced a June 15 expiration, Silver lets the laws expire without ever calling on the lawmakers to debate — then immediately strikes a deal with Republicans to increase rent hikes on empty stabilized apartments.
Dashing Rudy’s dreams of dominion (2001): When “America’s mayor” proposed an unsanctioned third term so he could keep calming the city into 2002 — and block a Democrat from his office — Silver refuses to schedule a vote on amending term-limit laws until after the Democrats had agreed on a nominee. Giuliani dropped the idea.
Extinguishing the Olympic torch (2005): The murky Public Authorities Control Board, on which Silver casts a critical vote, preempts debate over the Olympics’ citywide benefits by refusing to approve a stadium on the Hudson Yards site.
Seeding Atlantic Yards (2005): As Brooklyn residents get their knickers in a twist, the Public Authorities Control Board approves $200 million in public seed money for Atlantic Yards — without officially counting how many Brooklyn lawmakers support seventeen-tower cluster around a Frank Gehry arena.
Showing his law firm the state money (2006): Silver shuffles the Judiciary Committee, and a Senate-passed bill to bar pension-drawing public employees from suing their employers dies without a vote. Silver’s private law practice focuses on bringing such suits.
Holding charter schools back (2006): A proposal to allow 250 charter schools in New York City, up from the currently allowed 100, gets no Assembly vote.
Spitting out Spitzer picks (2007): Rather than let his members vote on one of three nominees Eliot Spitzer put up to replace Alan Hevesi, Silver spirits Tom DiNapoli into the job.
Blocking the congestion-pricing box (2008): The Speaker declines a vote on an amended congestion-pricing proposal. The Times quotes him as saying: “Let me be clear: If I were making the decision alone, I might have made a different decision.” —Alec Appelbaum