Sheldon Silver, the disgraced former speaker of the state Assembly, asked the judge for mercy at his sentencing last week on federal corruption charges. She showed him some, reducing his original 12-year sentence to seven years.
He didn’t deserve it.
We’re all for mercy, but only for criminals whose repentance is genuine and in circumstances when the mercy serves a public purpose.
After decades of lies from Silver, we don’t believe he is sincere. We don’t believe he regrets betraying the public’s trust or the damage he has done to the state’s politics. He regrets getting caught.
“Everything I ever accomplished has become a joke and a spectacle. ... I beg for your mercy so that I can somehow go out into the world again to atone to everyone I have hurt,” Silver wrote in a letter to the judge.
We do not believe, given the opportunity, Silver would atone to those he has hurt. The right place for him to atone is alone in his prison cell.
Despite his statements of contrition, Silver has continued to fight the charges and assert he committed no crimes. He has not accepted responsibility for what he did: used his office to funnel contracts to and do favors for people who gave him $4 million in kickbacks.
He has not donated $4 million to the state.
Silver is 74 and has fought prostate cancer. He may die in prison.
“I pray I will not die in prison,” he wrote in his letter.
But accepting the consequences of his shameful behavior, not trying to lessen them, would show remorse.
When Silver was convicted on the same charges in 2015, it was the same federal judge — Valerie Caproni — who sentenced him to 12 years. He was granted a new trial after a Supreme Court decision narrowed public corruption law.
After Silver’s second conviction, Caproni mentioned the other high New York public officials — the former state Senate majority leader, Dean Skelos, and the once-powerful aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Joseph Percoco — who have also been convicted this year in corruption cases. Behind those two is a long line of New York officials who have been indicted, convicted, and in some cases, served time in prison.
“This has to stop,” Caproni said.
It should stop, but whether it “has to stop” is debatable. The state continues to function — in a dysfunctional fashion — despite being led by a procession of criminals.
If we want it to stop, and we do, then sending the message that corruption convictions will be accompanied by stiff prison sentences could help. Politicians weighing the value of money in their pockets against the possibility of 10 or 15 years in prison might have second thoughts.
Silver, at the peak of state power for decades, was supposed to be a role model. Instead, it’s the consequences of his corruption that send a message to the public. That message should be unequivocal: Crime doesn’t pay.