|New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in FBI custody (AP photo)|
Illinois is not exactly known for honest politicians. We have had our share of greedy scoundrels that have used their office for illegal gain via extortion or bribes. Some of them were actually among the most highly honored public servants. In one case a corrupt governor was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It was a serious nomination. And yet he was convicted of corruption and served time in prison.
And who can forget Rod Blagojevich who was caught by the FBI trying to extort money from contenders for Barack Obama’s vacant seat in the US Senate.
So yes, we have had our share of embarrassments. Illinois has a long history of corrupt governors. Just to name the ones that were convicted since I moved to Chicago back in 1962: Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, George Ryan, and Rod Blagojevich.
But it is a prominent politician in New York that although not the governor, embarrasses me the most. This story has been plastered across every major periodical and media news source. Here’s one from an AP report on the CBS News website:
New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested Thursday on corruption charges and accused of using his position as one of the most powerful politicians in Albany to obtain millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income.
The 70-year-old Silver was taken into custody around 8 a.m. at the FBI's New York City office, FBI spokesman Peter Donald confirmed. Silver faces five counts, including conspiracy and bribery, and the charges carry a potential penalty of 100 years in prison.
In a criminal complaint, authorities said Silver abused his power and "obtained about $4 million in payments characterized as attorney referral fees solely through the corrupt use of his official position."
I know that in America, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Mr. Silver should be given the same courtesy. He of course denies that he did anything wrong. (As did the above mentioned Illinois governors).
But in high profile cases like these the FBI is not going to have anyone arrested if they do not have strong evidence of his guilt. I do not recall anyone that was ever arrested in a case like this that wasn’t eventually found guilty in court.
But… given the presumption of innocence, I will proceed with the caveat that what I am about to say is only the case if he is indeed found guilty.
If he is guilty, then once again we have a high profile Orthodox Jew who is apparently a crook. And once again we have Chilul HaShem. Which is always the case when someone who professes to follow the Torah gets caught in a crime.
The name Sheldon Silver has over the years been prominently mentioned in Jewish periodicals and newspapers like the Jewish Press. It was with pride that I read about an observant Jew who rose to great heights in politics and become a high profile and powerful public servant. It was comforting to have an Orthodox Jew in government that would have Jewish interests in mind as well as the interests of all his constituents.
Whenever I read a story about him, I thought, ‘He’s one of us’! …a religious Jew that was popular enough with his constituents to be elected and reelected to his office. And popular enough with his peers to be chosen by them as the New York State Assembly Speaker. Time after time. What a Kiddush HaShem, I thought. But now that Kiddush HaShem has been transformed into an embarrassing Chilul HaShem.
Why did he do it (if indeed he did)? There is a one word answer: Greed.
And because of that greed, he has joined an illustrious gang of thieves who have served in government. Except that this one wears a black hat!
Shame on him. For he has brought shame upon the Jewish people.