The announcement that Merryl Tisch will be standing down as chancellor of the state Board of Regents — the most powerful position in New York education — marks an end to whatever lingering influence former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver may have had over public affairs in the Empire State.
Similarly, the pending retirement of Court of Appeals Chief Justice (and trial-lawyer partisan) Jonathan Lippman removes Silver’s once extremely influential hand from the state court system.
Both Tisch and Lippman grew up on the Lower East Side with Silver — the one-time master of all that mattered in Albany and clearly a man who both treasured loyalty and rewarded old relationships.
Tisch owed her elevation to the chancellorship to a quirk in the state Constitution that effectively vests control of the Board of Regents in the incumbent speaker — a power Silver exercised with ruthless competence.
Lippman benefited from the outsized influence Silver brought to all politics in New York during a period when lassitude, followed by explosive scandal and then breathtaking bumbling, reduced the state’s executive branch to near impotence.
There is no small irony in the fact that Silver’s alleged abuse of the trial courts — US Attorney Preet Bharara charges that Silver abused his high office to corruptly make it rain for the power-house tort firm Weitz & Luxenberg — led to his own indictment.
Silver is scheduled to go on trial next week on seven charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, money-laundering and extortion connected with what the indictment terms “monetary transactions involving criminal proceeds” of at least $4 million. The former speaker will sit there as witness after witness testifies that Shelly traded legislative favor X for “legal fee” Y, among other humiliations.
But there is no doubt that before it all went south, the empire Sheldon Silver created was very, very good to him.
It extended far beyond Tisch and Lippman, of course. The same constitutional quirk that led to her chancellorship, for example, allowed the speaker to hand-pick state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli after then-incumbent Alan Hevesi left office en route to his own prison term.
But let’s stick with Silver’s LES cronies.
Lippman, who’s leaving the court only because he’s reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, not only was tort-bar friendly. He also championed the sort of uber-liberal policies that Silver’s left-leaning Assembly conference was so appreciative of.
Tisch, who talks as tough a game as anyone on education standards and teacher evaluations, somehow always manages to resolve issues in ways that the state’s fundamentally corrupt teachers unions find unobjectionable.
To be fair, both Lippmann and Tisch have been bright, competent partisans for intellectually defensible points of view. It’s just that those viewpoints aligned with Silver’s interests far too often to be coincidental.
And that — the federal penal code aside — is arguably Silver’s most objectionable offense: He turned an entire branch of government to his personal advantage. So it shouldn’t surprise that he decided to make big bucks on the side — as Bharara alleges.
Whether there is substance to those charges will be resolved beginning next week, in a federal courthouse. Whatever the outcome, though, two things seem beyond dispute.
One is that there most likely will never be another Sheldon Silver — or, rather, another New York legislator who possesses the intelligence, skill, patience and ethical indifference needed to construct an empire of the sort the former speaker ran for more than two decades.
The other — and this is essentially just a sidebar: The departure of Merryl Tisch and Jonathon Lippman from public life is every bit as epoch-ending as Silver’s exit.
Happily for them, no handcuffs will be involved.
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Sheldon Silver’s corrupt empire falls as cronies exit public life