By Jeff Mays on February 3, 2015 3:06pm
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 leaderSheldon 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 AssemblywomanCatherine 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.
A strange sense of duty: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie Dodged Jury Duty for Years, Officials Say
By Jeff Mays and James Fanelli on February 6, 2015 7:48am
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie promised a new era of ethics reform and "accountability" in Albany.View Full Caption
NEW YORK CITY — New Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie promised a new era of ethics reform and "accountability" after being elected to replace his disgraced predecessorSheldon Silver.
But when it comes to doing his civic duty by serving on a jury, Heastie, now one of the most powerful politicians in the state, has been less than accountable, according to court records.
In 1993 the Bronx County Clerk tried to have Heastie held in contempt for ignoring his jury duty summonses for more than two years.
Heastie, 47, was called to jury duty five times between May 28, 1991 and Dec. 15, 1992. The final summons was postponed to March 4, 1993 at Heastie’s request. He began working in the New York City Comptroller’s office in 1993.
According to a petition filed by then Bronx County Clerk Leo Levy seeking to have Heastie held in contempt as a "delinquent juror," the postponement was granted under the "condition this was the final postponement" and that Heastie "must serve."
Heastie still failed to show up for service, according to the petition.
Heastie then ignored a March 17 and June 10, 1993 request from the Bronx County Clerk to explain his absences, the petition stated.
No "claim or evidence of disqualification or excuse has been presented by or on behalf" of Heastie, read the petition that sought to have him fined and held until he paid the fine.
Failure to report for jury duty can result in civil and criminal penalties in New York state.
It is unclear how the case was resolved. A Bronx justice disposed of it on Aug. 20, 1993, issuing an oral decision.
Bronx County Clerk Counsel Frederick Rossetti represented the office in the Heastie case. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Heastie’s Deputy Press Secretary Kerri Biche declined to discuss specific details of his jury service.
"Over the years, Speaker Heastie has postponed select appearances due to other obligations. He has appeared for jury duty on several occasions," Biche said.
In 2005, five years after he was elected assemblyman in the 83rd District, which covers Williamsbridge, Edenwald, Wakefield, Eastchester and Baychester, Heastie again received notices to serve jury duty.
Records from the Bronx County Clerk’s office show that Heastie received seven different postponements from 2005 until 2008, when he finally served two days of jury service starting on Sept. 29, 2008, according to Bronx Division of Jurors First Deputy County Clerk Kay Amer.
In 2008, Heastie helped lead a coup for control of the Bronx Democratic Party and was named chairman.
The average person is usually forced to serve after just two postponements, according to the Bronx County Clerk’s office.
"The norm is that we try to accommodate people but after the second postponement they have to come in and serve," Amer said.
Amer said exceptions are sometimes given beyond the usual number of postponements for job or childcare issues or for people who have to attend funerals.
"There are incidents due to people’s hardships when we are willing to give leeway," said Amer, who cited one case where a potential juror said he was in jeopardy of losing his job if he had to take time off work to serve.
The New York State Unified Court System allows for one postponement by phone to a date between two and six months away. Future postponements must be made by calling the local commissioner or jurors’ office.
"Many people, elected officials, might be in session in Albany representing the people," Amer said when asked why Heastie had been given more than three times the number of normal postponements.
"It isn’t the norm but there are situations when it is deemed necessary."
In 2006, Heastie changed addresses, which may have also led to a delay in his jury service while the new address was processed, Amer said. Heastie also told the clerk’s office that he had a funeral to attend in 2008, accounting for at least one other postponement, she said.
After his service in 2008, Heastie served one day of jury duty on July 24, 2013. He’s not eligible for jury duty service again until 2017.
"Everyone has to serve," said Amer. "He’s in good standing. He came in and did his civic duty."
Heastie’s election as speaker, following the resignation of Silver after he was indicted on federal corruption charges, has been met with some skepticism given past issues.
The Moreland Commission had been examining Heastie for $25,000 in unitemized campaign credit card expenses, although he has not been accused of wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes.
Many feel an open process of choosing the next speaker where candidates discussed their plans to reform Albany was short-circuited when Heastie wrapped up enough support from his colleagues to force four other candidates out of the race before any such debate could be had.
Dick Dadey, executive director of good government group Citizens Union, said he found it "curious" that Heastie had received so many jury duty postponements but was happy that Heastie had now served twice in a row.
"It’s important for all citizens, including elected officials, to honor their civic duty and respond to the summonses," Dadey said.
Denial or cover? Assembly speaker hopeful Carl Heastie doesn’t believe corruption is widespread in Legislature
The Bronx Democrat told the Daily News Editorial Board that he thinks ‘it’s isolated to a few bad apples.’ Assembly Democrats formally made Heastie their choice for speaker on Monday.
BY KENNETH LOVETT, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Monday, February 2, 2015, 12:45 PM
ALBANY — The Bronx Democrat set to replace Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he doesn’t believe there is widespread corruption in the Legislature.
“I think it’s isolated to a few bad apples,” Assemblyman Carl Heastie told the Daily News Editorial Board on Monday.
But he added that “from a macro perspective, there’s some ethical concerns that we need to deal with.”
At a closed-door meeting Monday, the Assembly Democrats formally made Heastie their choice for speaker. A formal floor vote that was originally scheduled for Feb. 10 is now set for Tuesday morning.
In advance of the vote, Heastie on Monday proposed several changes for the scandal-scarred body, including reforming the chamber’s travel expense system.
Heastie has benefited from the system more than most.
Records show he has consistently ranked among the Assembly leaders in receiving travel expense reimbursements for his trips to Albany. At $23,441, he ranked third last year.
Heastie insisted his reimbursements are justified.
He also defended himself against criticism that his campaign finance disclosures include tens of thousands of dollars in unitemized expenses.
State election law, he argued, doesn’t require itemizing campaign expenses under $50. He said his spending went for things like office supplies and gas for travel within the city.
MIKE GROLL/APAssembly Speaker Sheldon Silver talks to the media after leaving his office in the Legislative Office Building last week.
“It’s pretty tough for me to feel like I’m being picked on because I followed New York State election law,” he said.
Heastie, who will become the Assembly’s first black speaker, vowed to keep a distance from any investigations undertaken by the state ethics commission.
“Any investigation, any ethics committee situation, I don’t think I should have any involvement in that,” he said.
As speaker, he will be one of the officials who makes appointments to the commission.
Describing his style as that of a consensus builder, Heastie (photo below) said he’s not interested in the ironfisted approach to ruling that has been associated with Silver the past two decades.
“I don’t want to keep everything centrally controlled,” he said. “I’ve never been a dictator. It’s not my style.”
On issues facing the chamber this year, Heastie said he is focused on raising the minimum wage.
He sees the renewal of the expiring rent regulation law as the biggest issue facing New York City.
“It always becomes contentious,” he said.
The NY Daily News editorial headline says it all: Assembly Democrats: They’ve learned nothing from Sheldon Silver scandal
Conservative Party of New York State By Shaun Marie, on Feb 3, 2015
The NY Daily News editorial headline says it all: Assembly Democrats: They’ve learned nothing from Sheldon Silver scandal and goes on to say, "Heastie has not the slightest interest in, nor an instinct for, transparent governance." Blinders, oblivious and questionable ethics of his own, this is who the Assembly Democrats elected today to replace scandal-scarred Silver.
Newsday (subscription required) is not too pleased with the rush to coronate the new Speaker, while the NY Post editorial opines that Silver’s downfall leads to a possible trifecta, not something New York should be proud of.