(What an airhead)
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver spent $20,219 in taxpayer money over the past three years jetting from New York City to Albany but the top-flight pol turned easy 150-mile, one-hour jaunts into epic 500-mile, five-hour odysseys in a greedy quest to rack up frequent-flier miles, according to sources and expense records.
Instead of finding cheap flights that connect directly from New York City to Albany, or taking less-costly trains or automobiles, the second-most powerful man in the state takes long, expensive detours through Philadelphia or Washington, DC.
“He brags about his ability to build up mileage,” said one Albany insider. “Taxpayers are footing the bill to allow Shelly to fly halfway around the world on a mileage program.”
This year alone, the Democratic kingmaker and bill slayer submitted 21 claims for reimbursement, with an average round trip costing $354 while his colleagues slummed it on $82 round-trip Amtrak trains or stuffed themselves into carpools that cost $210 for gas and tolls.
Yet Silver doesn’t need to fly. The state provides him with a $15,000 Ford Taurus for the three-hour drive from his Lower East Side home to the Capitol. The 69-year-old jet-setter barely uses his taxpayer-gifted 2011 sedan, claiming just $832.78 for gas this year.
But Silver does wear out his frequent-flier card.
In 2008, the veteran legislator reportedly had a US Airways Chairman’s Preferred Dividend Rewards card. Under the program’s rules, he’d earn 2,148 miles for every round trip via a DC connection to Albany.
Silver on Friday refused to say whether he was still a member of the rewards club or how many miles he’s earned. If he were still an elite card holder, he would have earned an estimated 168,618 frequent-flier miles over the last three years. And if each sojourn was charged on his US Airways MasterCard, which records show he holds, he’d tack on an additional 40,438 miles.
The massive total translates into 205,834 frequent-flier miles enough for a free trip around the world.
“If taxpayers are the ones paying for flights, then taxpayers should be the ones benefitting from the free miles not someone sitting on millions of dollars,” one disgusted insider said. “Only the word cheap can describe this scheme.
“Maybe one of his constituents would like a free trip to the Caribbean.”
Silver’s flights of fancy also get in the way of state business at times, the legislative calendar has been changed to accommodate his itinerary, sources told The Post.
The speaker typically leaves his Grand Street home on Sunday evenings and heads to La Guardia to begin the first leg of his trip: a one-hour, 15-minute flight to DC, sources said. After waiting a few hours, he sets out for Albany on another aircraft for a one-hour, 20-minute ride.
Silver leaves Albany, the sources said, on Friday mornings for another half-day of flights to New York City in order to make it home before nightfall for the Jewish Sabbath.
Newark offers a direct, one-hour flight to Albany, but only on United Airlines. That would be inconvenient for Silver, a loyal US Airways customer, records show.
While the lawmaker’s fantastic voyages violate no law, critics see it as an unseemly and unethical money grab.
“He’s using taxpayer dollars to travel, and any benefits from that should accrue to the state and not to him personally,” said Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey. “I think it does raise questions of ethics, and it’s a matter that should be reviewed by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
“Our laws and rules are so porous that they need to be clarified,” the government watchdog added.
Silver who’s already in hot water for other ethics issues like secretly paying sexual-harassment victims of former Assemblyman Vito Lopez and mishandling a sex-harassment claim made against Assemblyman Micah Kellner by a staffer denied that his travel plans are unlawful or interfere with state business.
“Speaker Silver generally uses commercial airlines to travel between New York City and Albany and has found that this is the easiest and most efficient method of travel,” said his spokesman, Michael Whyland. “The speaker complies with the law.”
It’s not just Silver putting on airs that costs taxpayers.
He also collects hefty “per diem” expenses federally set allowances that give lawmakers $104 for lodging and $61 for meals per day regardless of where they stay or eat.
For Silver, the perk amounted to $35,378 over the past three years, records show.
Yet he’s been known to stay at inexpensive motels “to maximize his per diem” pocketing the remainder.
“A lot of the legislators stay in the downtown [Albany] areas. He does not,” a source noted.
In 2011, a Post reporter found Silver at the Red Carpet Inn on the outskirts of town, where drive-to-the-door rooms go for as low as $45 a night.
A source said Silver now stays at the Albany Marriott, where rooms run about $219 a night to the public but where lawmakers score a $100 discount.
The 36-year veteran of the state Legislature makes $121,000 as the Assembly’s leader and raked in another $350,000 to $450,000 last year from personal-injury law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, where Silver is a rainmaking “of counsel.”
He also maintained a stock portfolio valued between $773,000 and $1.83 million and sold $159,000 to $290,000 in stocks!
(What an airhead)