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Heastie Poised To Be State's First African American Speaker

The State Assembly is poised to elect Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie as the next Speaker, as Sheldon Silver resigns in disgrace over serious corruption charges.  Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo is threatening to hold up the state budget if lawmakers don’t agree to a number of key reforms.

Assembly Majority Joe Morelle confirms that Democrats, meeting behind closed doors, have decided unanimously that Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie will be the next Speaker.

Originally, the Assembly was to hold the vote on February 10th and give several candidates a chance to make their case publicly. But Morelle, who was briefly a candidate himself, says it’s OK to move more quickly, now that everyone is in agreement over who the next speaker should be.

“Mr. Heastie has achieved consensus,” said Morelle, who said members are eager to get back to work on the state budget and other important issues.

Morelle says he’s not concerned about negative news stories criticizing the Assembly for acting in secrecy and haste to elect a new leader after the arrest of Sheldon Silver on corruption charges.

“I don’t think it’s given us a black eye,” said Morelle.

Some Assembly Democrats were uneasy over the quick transition, including Deborah Glick, of Manhattan.

“My only concern is that we are rushing a process that we had agreed to,” said Glick.

Heastie, known to be camera shy, did not speak publicly but said in a statement that he’s “humbled by the outpouring of support,” and looking forward to the vote. 

His remaining opponent in the race, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, dropped out Monday, saying she would vote for Heastie, and that she considers the election of the state’s first African American Assembly Speaker “historic.”

“I have no in shame saying I would have liked to have seen my own name in that,” Nolan said. “But I think I made a little history for women just to be considered.”

Governor Cuomo weighed in on the Corruption scandal  in the Assembly, calling for reform and raising the stakes for lawmakers.  Cuomo, in a speech at NYU law school, proposed a five point plan, including public financing of campaigns, full and complete disclosure of lawmaker’s outside income, and more transparent expense payments. And Cuomo says he’s putting his proposals in the budget, and won’t agree to a spending plan without them.

“I will not sign a budget that does not have an ethics plan as outlined in my proposal that addresses the current problems in the system,” said Cuomo.

The governor says he needs to “look every New Yorker in the eye”, and tell them there are deterrents and punishments in place.

Assemblyman Heastie also offered a number of reforms  that he says will happen if he becomes Speaker. In a statement, he promised to personally forego all outside income, and will require others to comply with a monetary cap on other jobs they hold,  and to more fully disclose their employers. Heastie says he’d also reform the per diem system, which pays lawmakers a daily allowance for their time at the Capitol. Heastie has the fourth highest per diem claims in the 150 member Assembly.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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