Local Dems back Heastie for speaker

With Assemblyman Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, poised to become the next speaker of the state Assembly, Cap
Assemblyman Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, walks to a Democratic conference at the Capitol on Monday in Albany.
Assemblyman Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, walks to a Democratic conference at the Capitol on Monday in Albany.

With Assemblyman Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, poised to become the next speaker of the state Assembly, Capital Region lawmakers are looking for a focus on ethics reform and upstate development.

The Assembly Democratic conference backed Heastie as speaker on Monday, with a vote set to seal the deal Tuesday at 11 a.m., following Sheldon Silver’s resignation after being charged with taking nearly $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks.

The end of Silver’s 21-year tenure could pave the way for some changes in the Assembly this year. Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said it is essential to elect a new speaker sooner than later to deliver an on-time budget and address issues such as school funding.

“I think it’s important that we get back to work as quickly as possible,” Santabarbara said. “We need a leader to go into these budget negotiations and be able to reach a good budget for the people we represent. I think it’s important for the Assembly to move forward.”

Since legislative session started last month, the Assembly has failed to pass a single bill. Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, said the Assembly needs a new speaker, but knocked the process that led to Heastie as the only remaining candidate for the leadership position.

As of last week there were four potential candidates for speaker, including Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, of Rochester. But after several closed-door meetings among the conference, the other Assembly members withdrew their names from the race and threw their support behind Heastie.

“While they say this is an opportunity for reform, this is the farthest thing from reform,” Tedisco said. “If they really wanted transparency they would have a forum with questions asked and questions answered on both sides of the aisle. The new boss might be the same as the old boss.”

Heastie announced reform plans on Monday that include creating an Office of Ethics and Compliance, which would provide guidance to Assembly members on ethics issues and rules, strengthen reporting requirements of per diem reimbursements, and require full disclosure of outside income with a possible cap.

As part of the package, Heastie said he would also consider proposals to create a full-time Legislature and ban all outside income. Gov. Andrew Cuomo also proposed his own ethics reform agenda on Monday that would include full disclosure of outside income and restrict personal use of campaign funds.

“I believe 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,” Heastie said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop and implement reforms like these, and others, so that the Assembly can regain the voters’ trust and start a new chapter.”

Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, is not confident that Heastie could fill Silver’s shoes as speaker. He said the reform proposals remain to be seen and questioned Heastie’s willingness to work with Assembly members who represent upstate areas.

Steck said he would have preferred more time to elect a new speaker. A vote was originally scheduled for Feb. 10, but Heastie gained support quickly and the date was ultimately pushed up. Steck said he was hopeful Morelle would have the chance to be speaker.

“Heastie is certainly not going to have the control Speaker Silver had,” Steck said. “I think he might be a little unclear of the direction he would take the conference. We would not have tripled the amount of aid for Schenectady schools without Silver. I can’t say if Heastie would be of a similar mind.”

Steck, who is an attorney at Cooper Erving & Savage in Albany, said he is in favor of a full-time Legislature to eliminate the issues of outside income. But if the Legislature were a full-time job, he would like to see lawmakers’ salaries increased from the current $79,500 base pay.

Nearly 40 Assembly Democrats have banded together to form a Reform Caucus, including many freshman and upstate lawmakers such as Santabarbara and Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner of Round Lake. Heastie met with the group on Monday to discuss ethics reform.

Woerner said after meeting with Heastie she believes he will represent the interests of the entire state, not just New York City, and lay out a solid reform package that could be embraced by the end of session.

“I feel confident that he will make a good effort,” she said. “Part of that will be on myself and my colleagues that he gets educated about upstate and give him a few tours of our area and help him to understand the issues that matter up here. I think he is prepared to take our needs seriously.”

Santabarbara said he believes Heastie’s proposed reforms are a good step to move the Assembly in the right direction.

“This is a good chance to address some reforms and get a commitment from our next speaker,” he said. “I also want to make sure the next speaker is focused on upstate New York. Heastie has pledged to do an upstate tour and meet with us to address education funding and other things we have lacked in the past.”

Tedisco said Heastie “seems like a nice guy” but is disappointed that the selection of the next speaker was not more transparent.

“We played basketball together in the past and he passed the ball to me once or twice, which is good,” he said. “But the first thing I heard from him and my colleagues was that the speaker is a New York City position. You shouldn’t be saying that because it is geographic discrimination. It makes me less optimistic.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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