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As Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver has forged a member-driven institution with the commitment and vision to meet the challenges of the new millennium.
Upon assuming the Assembly’s top leadership post in 1994, Silver moved quickly to recast the public image of the House by reasserting the Assembly’s independence on socio-economic issues, such as education policy, private job creation and criminal justice reform. He initiated a public/private partnership with the goal of reducing energy costs in the state, and launched a much-touted school repair program to restore dilapidated classroom infrastructure. Within weeks of his election, he began to modernize and guide the House into the next century by adopting the concept of “conference committees” to resolve differences in legislation between the Assembly and the Senate; placing the Assembly on the Internet in order to open public access; adopting meaningful budget reforms, including cash budgeting and long-term forecasting in the state; and advocating comprehensive debt reform; as well as becoming a nationally recognized leader in protecting religious freedom.
With an eye to increasing public participation and making government even more accessible to the people of New York State, Speaker Silver continues to focus his efforts on implementing reforms, particularly through the use of technology. Silver took the lead in televising Assembly Sessions, making it the first house of the Legislature to broadcast its deliberations statewide. The Speaker is looking to expand the current TV coverage available to viewers across the state on the Legislative Channel and continues to call for C-SPAN-like coverage of New York State government. Additionally, the Assembly, under the Speaker’s direction, recently launched an enhanced, interactive Web site, which allows users to quickly and easily access information about legislative issues and activities.
Speaker Silver continues, on behalf of the 109-member majority conference, to re-affirm the Assembly’s role as a guardian of New York’s middle class and working families.
Speaker Silver was elected interim Speaker on January 24, 1994, and was elected Speaker on February 11, 1994. From the outset, he has made education the hallmark of his tenure as Speaker. His comprehensive education initiative, LADDER (Learning, Achieving, Developing By Directing Educational Resources), has emphasized standards and the importance of early childhood learning to educational success. Through LADDER, New York State has established the first pre-kindergarten program for all four-year-olds in the nation. The program has also targeted resources at reducing class size and making necessary school infrastructure repairs to ensure classroom facilities that meet 21st-century educational needs. In working to adopt his first state budget as Speaker in 1994, he succeeded in winning critical funding for education and health care programs.
Other significant achievements include his major victory in 1997 over efforts to end rent control, in which Speaker Silver saved thousands of middle-class families in the New York City Metropolitan region from losing their homes, and his success in restoring vital funding for the state’s breast cancer mapping program in the 1998 state budget. In 1999, Speaker Silver successfully fought for passage of the Clinic Access and Anti-Stalking Act, which ensures women access to reproductive services and cracks down on violence against clinic workers on the job or at their home, and Kendra’s Law, which allows courts to require individuals with mental illness to follow prescribed treatment plans. During the 2000 session, Silver achieved several, long-awaited and hard-fought victories, including the enactment of a permanent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for current and future retirees in all public retirement systems, and landmark gun safety legislation, including a ban on assault weapons and numerous other provisions designed to crack down on illegal guns and prevent the tragedies that can occur when guns wind up in the wrong hands. Silver’s unwavering support for a bias-related crime bill culminated in 2000 after ten straight years in which the Senate did not act on hate crime legislation passed by the Assembly. Under Speaker Silver’s leadership, the Bias Crime Law, which combats violence associated with hatred, bigotry and prejudice, was finally enacted.
Born in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, Speaker Silver is a graduate of Yeshiva University and Brooklyn Law School. Prior to his election to the Assembly, Speaker Silver was engaged in private law practice and served as a law secretary to Civil Court Judge Francis N. Pecora.
In l976, Speaker Silver was elected to the Assembly, representing the 62nd Assembly District, an area rich in culture, history and diversity.
During the ensuing years, he worked his way up the ranks, rising to leadership posts. In 1985, Speaker Silver was named chair of the Assembly Election Law Committee and served as co-chair of the Temporary State Commission on Voting Machine Equipment and Voter Registration Systems. As chair, he focused on election reform, sponsoring several important initiatives, including prohibiting the conversion of campaign funds for personal use, providing for the use of electronic voting machines and simplifying the registration process for voters.
Speaker Silver ascended to the chair of the prestigious Assembly Committee on Codes in 1987. Under his stewardship, the committee enacted several important measures. Chief among these were new laws that established the successful Safe Streets-Safe Cities Program, increased penalties for possession of crack and established the crime statute of money laundering to assist law enforcement in their fight against organized criminal operations. Another measure sponsored by Speaker Silver expanded and improved the state’s Asset Forfeiture Law, allowing law enforcement officials to seize the assets of drug dealers and use the proceeds of those assets to curb and combat the drug trade. Another Silver initiative required the inclusion of intensive drug treatment annexes in any new prison expansion efforts. While serving as chair of the Codes Committee, Speaker Silver also developed the much-respected COMBAT (Coordinated Omnibus Municipally Based Anti-Drug Teams) program, which funds grass-roots, anti-drug efforts run cooperatively among local police, neighborhood groups and community leaders.
In 1992, Speaker Silver was appointed chair of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, which oversees all bills with a fiscal impact. It was during this assignment that Speaker Silver initiated the public debate on budget reform and held the first series of regional budget hearings across the state to garner local community input into the budget process.
The Speaker’s public service career has been marked by numerous awards and honors, including the United Jewish Appeal Citation for his humanitarian efforts, the Legislator of the Year Award from the Environmental Planning Lobby, the Distinguished Public Service Award by the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, the Centennial Citation of Merit for Leadership in Education from the National Arts Club, the Friend of SUNY Award, and the Government Hero Award presented by the Downtown/Lower Manhattan Association. Speaker Silver also was the recipient of the first annual Chinese Journalist Association’s Award, the first ever Gouverneur Hospital Community Service Award, and has been recognized for his outstanding legislative record by the Lower Manhattan Loft Tenants and the Greater New York Hospital Association. He received the Distinguished Lawmaker of the Year Award from the Long Island Breast Cancer Action Coalition, the Margaret Sanger Award from Family Planning Advocates, the Presidential Award from the New York State Nurses Association and the Elizabeth Blackwell Medal from N.Y.U. Downtown Hospital. In addition, Speaker Silver has been honored by the Council of Jewish Organizations and the Chinese-American Planning Council. A member of the Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, he has been honored by Somos El Futuro, and was also bestowed an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, Yeshiva University.
Speaker Silver and his wife Rosa reside on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The Silvers have four children, Edward, Janine, Michelle and Esther, and numerous grandchildren.
Standing Committee Assignments 2001: Rules (Chair)
Sheldon Silver, Dem. 19,535; Lib. 549
Raymond J. Dowd, Gre. 3,485
For more information – official website.