January 22, 2015

For Silver, betraying Jewish education is old hat

Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the New York State Assembly, may yet be found innocent of the charges against him in a new federal indictment. But the dirty secret within the Jewish community, is that he's been guilty of other offenses: Allowing milions in campaign contributions from teacher union override his allegiance to the Jewish community.
The most recent twist in this long-running farce: Crowning a public career understandably devoid of even a yarmulke, the privately Orthodox Silver -- who blocked tax incentives and other offsets that would ease the tuition crisis in New York State, home to the largest private day school population in the world -- dressed today like a yeshiva rebbe for his "perp walk".

In all our dealings with the Speaker, he never once offered serious relief of the kind that's worked in other states, without breaching constitutional protections or incentivizing tuition hikes -- excuses he consistently used to avoid serious legislative remedies.

To be fair, we were able to work out agreements with the Speaker to expand or update existing programs, netting tens of millions for non-public schools, including the yeshiva/day school community. And also, to be fair, major Jewish groups hailed the Speaker's "leadership" and good will, both publicly and in private ring-kissing sessions, to preserve and advance their claims of access and influence, and to maintain credibility as if they were accomplishing great things for Jewish education. With tuition totalling something over $1 billion a year for New York's Jewish community, a few million at a time is barely a dent.

I figured, politics is politics, and never bore a grudge against the Speaker. Even with the conflicts of interest implicit in his outside earnings, Albany is no clean room for good government and Governor Cuomo's own fighting words against corruption have faded into farce.
But seeing the Speaker suddenly don his yeshiva-style fedora for the most public appearance of his life -- in a moment of disgrace, pointedly identifying with the very community he had blocked -- is what pushed me to speak my mind.

The Catholic community hasn't waited patiently for the Speaker to throw them crumbs, which is the reason Governor Cuomo -- just yesterday -- committed to pushing a modest but promising initiative to increase the tax benefits for donations to non-public school scholarship funds.
I don't expect any Jewish community groups with a stake in "business as usual" to speak out against anything the Speaker has done, so I am voicing my own humble protest against his duplicity and our own community's complicity. I also confess my own playing ball (but never backing down) when I thought it could advance the cause.

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