New York Assembly Speaker Bizarrely Accuses Times of Mixing Him Up With Random, Similarly Named Guy

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Photo: Daniel Barry/2008 Getty Images

Back in March, the New York Times published an article about the years-long effort by New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his friend William E. Rapfogel to prevent the construction of low-income housing on a large vacant lot on the Delancey Street. The Times reported that Silver (who has represented the Lower East Side since the late '70s) and Rapfogel (who was recently charged with stealing money from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty) opposed the proposed development out of a desire "to preserve the Jewish identity of the neighborhood." For several decades, the two men used a community group called the United Jewish Council of the East Side to push their vision for land, which did not seem to include non-Jewish groups, with Silver acting as the organization's lawyer. The story certainly doesn't make Silver look very good, which is probably why he insisted to the Times that he had been mixed up with some other guy named Sheldon Silver. 

On Thursday, the Times ran a summary of Silver's bizarre claim, as well as an explanation of why it seems to be a total lie. According to Speaker Silver, the anti-low-income housing effort described in the piece should be blamed on Sheldon E. Silver, a Minneapolis-born Brooklyn lawyer who briefly worked for the UJC and conveniently died in 2001. "I was forever confused with this guy," Speaker Silver insisted. Meanwhile, his spokesman told the Times that his boss was "upset" over the supposed mix-up.

But after the Times produced documents from the fight over the lot that "clearly identify Mr. Silver as the lawmaker, not the similarly named lawyer from Brooklyn," Speaker Silver dropped one correction request. However: 

[Silver's] office held on to one claim of mistaken identity: The “Sheldon Silver Esq.” identified as counsel to United Jewish Council on the group’s letterhead from all those years was not the assemblyman, but the other Mr. Silver. As evidence, the office produced two one-sentence letters from 1973 to the Internal Revenue Service from the council signed by Mr. Sheldon E. Silver.

Luckily, the late Sheldon E. Silver's wife, Shoshanna, is still alive, so she was able to tell the Times that her husband was employed by the UJC "only six or nine months, a very short period of time." According to Shoshanna, her Sheldon had "nothing to do" with the organization after 1974. Though Speaker Silver's office continues to insist that he was "never counsel or lawyer to United Jewish Council," the Times notes that:

Throughout the late 1970s, United Jewish Council’s stationery lists the counsel as Sheldon Silver, Esq. — exactly how Speaker Silver, who has no middle name, listed his name in his official registration with the state court. The other Mr. Silver is registered as “Sheldon E. Silver.”

As many people surely will, Sheldon E. Silver's family told the Times that they found Speaker Silver's attempt to pin his actions on the similarly named man "a little humorous." "I guess he doesn't want to take responsibility for those things," Shoshanna observed. But, as is often the case, in attempting to avoid blame, Silver has only succeeded in drawing more attention to the issue. Read the entire weird thing here