The New York state Assembly elected a relatively unknown Democrat from the Bronx as speaker Tuesday, promising to clean up Albany's image after former speaker Sheldon Silver stepped down after 21 years to fight federal corruption charges.
Carl Heastie, a former New York City budget analyst, was elected by the Democratic majority after he was chosen by the caucus in a closed-door meeting on Monday.
In a short speech after his election lasting less than 10 minutes, Heastie promised to address issues that have dogged Albany for years such as daily expenses for Assembly members. He also vowed zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
"There is no question that the actions of the few has given cause for cynicism," Heastie said from the speaker's chair. "We must settle for nothing less than real reform to make this chamber a place of pride once again."
Heastie, who is the first black leader of the Assembly, blew a kiss to a rapturous standing ovation from the floor. The Assembly passed a resolution honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
The new speaker will face scrutiny in his efforts to bring reform to Albany. A review of Heastie's campaign finance fillings in the New York Times on Friday found that tens of thousands of dollars of expenses had not been properly itemized. A commission set up by Governor Andrew Cuomo and later disbanded also raised concerns about Heastie's finances, the paper said.
Silver, who is currently on police bail after being arrested on suspicion of pocketing $4 million from bribery and kickback schemes, also voted for Heastie to be elected as speaker. Silver denies wrong doing and says he will be vindicated.
Heastie's selection removes a question mark over state budget negotiations in which Silver had been instrumental in his position as speaker for over two decades. In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo presented an ambitious $142 billion spending plan for the next financial year.
New York has a highly compressed budget process. It's financial year starts on April 1, two months earlier than most others states. That makes every day count as the legislature wants to pass the budget on time, as it has done for the last four years. (Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by Alan Crosby)
MORNING METRO POST:
The state Assembly is expected to meet this morning and elevate Democratic Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie to the body's top leadership position.
The 11 a.m. vote, a week earlier than expected, comes after corruption-tarred Sheldon Silver (D-Lower East Side) relinquished his long hold on the Speakership last night, one minute to midnight.
Silver was recently arrested by the feds and accused in $4 million bribe and kickback scheme. He retains his seat in the Assembly, but no official leadership role. He was in Monday's closed-door Democratic conference.
Heastie is promising to back a reform agenda, a sudden priority again in Albany (Gov. Andrew Cuomo is demanding one, too) now that some worried lawmakers reportedly fear U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
He is expected to resign as Bronx Democratic boss and, unlike Silver, avoid outside employment while in office,reports Capital New York.
Of Heastie, Silver told Capital: “I’ve had a great run as speaker,” he said. “I’ll be kind to someone else.”