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Silverman Makes Committee Click

Twenty years after leaving Capitol Hill, Ed Silverman, the top Democratic aide on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, returned this year to help enact the most comprehensive rewrite of financial regulatory laws in decades.

In 1989, Silverman was chief of staff for Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who is now chairman of the Banking Committee. At that time, the panel was working on the law that created the Office of Thrift Supervision — a regulator tasked with supervising federal savings and loans associations during the crisis in that sector of the financial industry. Following even more expansive failures in the financial sector, his boss has recently proposed a sweeping new change to federal banking oversight.

One piece of Dodd’s proposal would meld the agency’s oversight responsibilities with those of the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency into a single banking regulator. With that new mandate, Silverman is the team leader of a staff working to make a change that could alienate needed support for the regulatory overhaul measure and push opponents to fight even harder against it.

Silverman spent eight years working in Dodd’s personal office until 1989, but he joined the committee staff this year after heading public policy efforts at Greenwich Capital Markets Inc. — now RBS Securities Inc. — a Connecticut-based investment firm. He now serves as the staff director for the committee. “One of the reasons I came back is because [Dodd] said he wanted to do something bold ... that nothing was off the table ... that he wasn’t going to rule things out because it was politically difficult,” Silverman said.

Removing regulatory authority from the Fed sweetens the deal for Republicans, who have been critical of attempts to broaden its power, but Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) have called the consolidation politically untenable. Banking and financial services groups close to negotiations on the bill have also expressed concern with creating a single regulator.

Since his return to the Hill, Silverman been extending his hand across the aisle and negotiating table, but lobbyists say they’re getting no sweetheart deals.

“It’s not a secret handshake kind of thing,” one financial lobbyist said of dealing with Silverman.

His Republican counterparts say that the open and active relationship they have with Dodd’s Banking staff has continued under Silverman’s leadership. “Everything about Ed makes it easy to work with him,” a senior Republican committee aide said.

Silverman earned his bachelor’s degree in urban affairs at George Washington University. Before his stint on the Hill in the 1980s, he served as the deputy assistant secretary for legislation and intergovernmental relations at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Carter administration.

Silverman admits he’s not the “detailed subject guy,” but he leans on his nearly 30-year relationship with Dodd to ensure that his boss’ legislative intent is clear in the bill language that his staff produces.

“He’s got a great relationship with his boss, and that’s the perfect thing for the job,” said Steven Shevick, a former Hill aide who worked for now-Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) during Silverman’s first stint on the Hill.

Shevick, who now works as the chief financial officer for venture-backed company Cobalt Biofuels, also worked with Silverman at HUD.

“He’s got a great sense of the ideal thing to do and the possible thing to do,” Shevick said, a distinction important in crafting any legislation.

Silverman comes to the committee filling a key vacancy, after longtime Dodd aide Shawn Maher left the committee to become the Obama administration’s liaison to the Senate.

“I empower strong, knowledgeable people to do their job,” Silverman said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’ve got good people.”

Armed with decades of financial services policy knowledge, Silverman is regarded as a politically attuned and experienced staffer. But even more than his policy prowess, his team and others appreciate his sense of humor. “He keeps everyone cracking up even when it’s stressful,” one of his fellow committee staff members said.

Scott DeFife, senior managing director of government affairs for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, said Silverman is “one of the more engaging and entertaining guys in the industry.”

“He’s very good at kicking off the discussion with the right tone,” DeFife said. “He breaks the ice well when there’s a serious matter to discuss.”

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