NEW YORK CITY — Assemblyman Carl Heastie of The Bronx is quickly emerging as the front runner to replace embattled long-time Speaker Sheldon Silver, setting him up to become the first African-American to hold the role and the first new assembly leader in 21 years.
Jockeying for the coveted role began just a week ago after Silver was arrested on federal corruption charges.
After it became clear that Silver's proposal to step back from the position and have a team of five senior Assembly members lead the body was not gaining traction, Heastie, head of the Bronx Democratic Party, emerged as one of five potential replacement candidates.
This is despite Heastie having been under investigation by the Moreland Commission, which was looking into corruption and legislators' outside income.
The list of potential candidates also included Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle who will serve as interim speaker starting Monday, Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright, Joseph Lentol, a Brooklyn Assemblyman who is a close associate with Silver and Queens Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan.
But Wright, Lentol and most recently, Morelle, have all since dropped out.
Wright, who is considering a candidacy for the Harlem congressional seat now held by Charles Rangel, threw his support to Heastie which was a major boost to The Bronx representative's chances because black and Latino legislators would not have to split votes between two black candidates.
Lentol, a long-shot candidate, dropped out of the race Tuesday, acknowledging that he had not been able to cobble together enough support. He also threw his support to Heastie, opening the door for the Brooklyn Assembly delegation to support Heastie.
And Morelle dropped out Friday, throwing his support as well behind Heastie.
It takes 76 votes cobbled together from various factions of the Assembly to become its new speaker.
"It's really not just about the candidates themselves but who's behind them. You have to get so many votes," said Evan Thies, a political consultant who is the president of Brooklyn Strategies.
Heastie might best be known for engineering a takeover of the Bronx Democratic Party in 2008 and currently serves as chair. He has several Bronx Assembly members loyal to him, making it easier to get other factions to support his bid.
Political observers say Heastie may have the support of the Queens Democratic party, which would be a serious blow to Nolan's candidacy.
"Over the past week, the New York State Assembly has faced a profound crisis of leadership. But our members have spoken loud and clear: it is time to began a new chapter," Heastie said in announcing his candidacy for speaker.
Heastie was first elected in 2000 and has a reputation for being able to compromise.
Hurting Heastie is that his name was mentioned by the Moreland Commission investigating public corruption for $25,000 in unitemized campaign credit card expenses, according to media reports.
The commission was also examining Silver's outside income before negotiations with Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut the panel down.
"The membership is looking for stability and credibility. They want to know the Assembly is not going to be maligned or weakened as they go into budget season, the most critical two months of the year," said Thies.
Nolan announced plans to run for speaker Wednesday. In her statement she said her 30 years in the Assembly have been served with "honesty and integrity" and how the body should return to the "high standards" the public expects.
If elected, Nolan, who represents Queens, would also be the first woman speaker.
"Lost in the names that have been mentioned as potential candidates for speaker is that of a woman," said Nolan.
Nolan's experience as chair of the important education committee is also valuable.
"Nolan chairs very powerful Albany committees. She's smart. She's a woman," said Thies. "There was always a chance that people would get behind her."