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Heastie Replaces Silver as Speaker, But Observers Fear More of the Same

By Jeff Mays | February 3, 2015 3:06pm
 Carl Heastie of The Bronx will likely be the first African-American Assembly speaker but many are still concerned that the lax ethical rules around outside income and campaign finance and spending that ensnared Silver in a federal corruption indictment will remain the same.
Heastie Replaces Silver as Speaker
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NEW YORK CITY — Bronx representative Carl Heastie was elected speaker of the Assembly Tuesday, becoming the first new person to hold the position in two decades and the first black speaker in the body's history.

But observers felt broad reform was needed to "earn back the public's trust" following the federal corruption indictment of longtime Assembly leader Sheldon Silver.

Some believe that Heastie, 47, whose name was mentioned by the Moreland Commission probe investigating outside income, did not represent a change from the previous culture.

The plan was for Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle to serve as interim speaker while a field of candidates debated their ideas for reforming Albany's culture of corruption before a Feb. 10 election.

But three of the five candidates dropped out days after announcing their candidacy, and the lone woman in the race, Queens Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, criticized the process Monday as she also threw her support to Heastie.

"We announced last week that we would have a more open discussion about who would lead our conference and I think, with the challenges we are facing, we needed to stick to that decision..," Nolan wrote in a letter to constituents.

"I would have preferred a vote on February 10 which would have allowed for discussion and review of proposals for reform and perhaps have allowed some new rules to go forward in tandem with the election of a new Speaker."

The move left many concerned that the lax ethical rules about outside income and campaign finance that ensnared Silver will remain in place.

"There needs to be dramatic reforms implemented to avoid mistakes of the past, otherwise this is a game of musical chairs where we are changing people and not the policies," said Dick Dadey, executive director of good government group Citizens Union.

"A public commitment was made to follow a set process that would be more open than any other time in the past and for that not to occur is a disappointment."

Heastie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded to the criticism Monday by each releasing separate reform proposals.

Cuomo wants to force legislators to disclose all outside income, eliminate pensions for lawmakers convicted of public corruption and stop the use of campaign funds for personal expenses.

He also also called for stronger campaign finance laws and threatened to hold up the budget, which would shut down state government, until ethics reforms were passed.

Heastie pledged not to accept any outside income above his speaker salary, likely $121,000, and said he would resign as chairman of the Bronx Democratic Party. He also called for an ethics compliance office to help legislators determine if they are violating the law.

Heastie also said he would curb abuse of the per-diem pay system by having the State Comptroller monitor how they are being dispensed.

The Moreland Commission had been examining Heastie for $25,000 in unitemized campaign credit card expenses. He has not been charged with a crime and there has been no suggestion of wrongdoing.

The proposals won praise from groups such as the Association For a Better New York, which called Heastie an "excellent candidate."

But Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, said the process has left people skeptical that reform will happen.

"You hope that with all the scandal coming out and issues with corruption in Albany, they would get someone who is squeaky clean, not someone with suspicious engagements. From my understanding Heastie is not that person," Falcón said.

"If this was a real contest for speaker, you would have had a chance to hear how the candidates plan to make the Assembly more transparent, but there have been no open discussions and it's been the same secretive process we've had up to this point."

Brooklyn Borough President and former state Sen. Eric Adams said he's hopeful about Heastie as speaker because he has a good combination of "seasoning and youthfulness," meanining he can effect change.

"A great leader knows how to evolve to the calling of the times, and the calling now is for a new system in Albany where you don't have three men sitting in a room alone making all the decisions," Adams said.