Heastie to be NY Assembly speaker; formal vote on Tuesday

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Posted: Feb 02, 2015 7:11 PM
Heastie to be NY Assembly speaker; formal vote on Tuesday

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Carl Heastie, a Democratic lawmaker from the Bronx, is poised to take over leadership of the New York state Assembly on Tuesday after the resignation of longtime speaker Sheldon Silver amid federal corruption charges.

Heastie had faced as many as four other contenders in the race to succeed Silver, but his final opponent conceded Monday and the Democrats who hold the Assembly majority nominated him with a unanimous vote. Republicans hold less than a third of the chamber's seats and cannot block his selection.

The 47-year-old Heastie will become speaker as the Assembly heads into critical budget negotiations with the state Senate and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The speakership is one of the most important positions in state government, with the power to set committee assignments and control which bills get votes and which ones languish.

In a statement, Heastie said he was humbled by his colleagues' support.

"He's a good man and he'll do a good job," Silver told reporters as he left the Capitol on Monday.

Silver's resignation comes after he was charged with taking nearly $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks over a decade for his influence on real-estate legislation and medical grants. The Manhattan Democrat says he expects to be exonerated and will keep his Assembly seat. He led the Assembly as speaker for 21 years.

Assembly Democrats had initially said they would wait until Feb. 10 to select Silver's replacement, to encourage an open and deliberative process. That changed, however, as Heastie quickly locked up support.

"The members felt that ... a consensus had emerged," said Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle of Rochester, who was briefly a candidate for speaker. "We need to move forward on budget deliberations ... to get back to work."

Heastie's final rival, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan of Queens, conceded minutes before the Democrats voted. "I lost," she said. "I accept their judgment."

On Monday, Heastie met with a group of lawmakers known as the "reform caucus" because of their interest in government transparency and accountability. The meeting was closed to reporters and other members of the public, however, and Heastie declined to answer reporters' questions as he walked in.

In a statement, Heastie vowed to pursue a series of ethics reforms including a new Office of Ethics and Compliance led by a non-legislator, new limits on how much outside income lawmakers can earn, and greater reporting of outside income and legislative stipends. Outside pay is a central issue in the case against Silver.

"We must seize this opportunity for reform and enact the type of lasting change that will make the Assembly more open, transparent and accountable to the voters," he said in a statement.

Cuomo on Monday suggested his own proposals to overhaul legislative ethics rules and said he wouldn't sign a state budget unless lawmakers take action. The Democratic governor said he wants to see full disclosure of all outside income for legislators and where it's coming from.

Heastie will become the first African-American speaker. He was chairman of the Assembly Labor Committee for the past two years. First elected in 2000, he is a former budget analyst for the New York City Comptroller's Office with a bachelor's degree in math from the State University at Stony Brook and an MBA from Baruch College. He also leads the Bronx Democratic County Committee — a post he has said he will leave if named speaker.

The now-defunct anti-corruption Moreland Commission reviewed Heastie's financial filings — along with the records of all other lawmakers — which showed thousands of dollars in bank and credit card payments for unspecified expenses. The commission found similar issues with many lawmakers because of the state's lax reporting requirements and enforcement.