Assembly adjusts to new speaker

ALBANY—Albany lawmakers elected Carl E. Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx, as the new Speaker of the New York State Assembly on Tuesday, February 3. Mr. Heastie took his seat the day after Sheldon Silver resigned from the position of speaker. Mr. Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, was arrested on corruption charges January 22. Mr. Silver remains a member of the Assembly.

The arrest of Mr. Silver may have far-reaching consequences for Columbia County. Mr. Silver’s 20-year tenure as speaker meant he held that powerful post during the administrations of five governors, including both Cuomos. All three Assembly members whose districts include parts of Columbia County—Democrat Didi Barrett (106th), and Republicans Peter Lopez (102nd) and Steve McLaughlin (107th)—called for Mr. Silver’s resignation as speaker shortly after his arrest.

One of the issues raised by the arrest of Mr. Silver and the subsequent election Speaker Heastie is the interruption of the state budget negotiation process. Concern about changes in the process have already begun to ripple through school districts in Columbia County. (See stories this edition on meetings of the Ichabod Crane and Hudson school boards). The official deadline for adopting a state budget is April 1.

Democrats hold a 106-to-44 majority in the Assembly, with the majority of those Democrats from districts in and around New York City. And Mr. Lopez described Mr. Silver this week as “very city-centric.”

But Ms. Barrett said that the former speaker had actually been attentive to the needs of upstate districts. “Mr. Silver did very much advocate [for school budgets]. The money I was able to bring back was in large part because of his support,” Ms. Barrett said by phone this week.

In an earlier press release calling for the speaker to step down, Ms. Barrett said, “The speaker has demonstrated a consistent interest in our Hudson Valley district and its needs.” Ms. Barrett said this week that she hoped Speaker Heastie would also make sure that the needs of upstate and rural communities were met.

In addition to being a member of the Assembly, Mr. Heastie is head of the Bronx County Democratic Committee.

In her earlier press release Ms. Barrett said Mr. Silver should resign as speaker “so that this house may move forward with the work we were elected to do…”

Mr. Lopez said that he “wasn’t looking to be disrespectful to Mr. Silver, [but] his leadership position has been compromised.”

Budget negotiations between the two houses of the legislature and Governor Cuomo are about to start, and Assembly Democrats, who initially planned to elect a new speaker February 10, moved up the date to this week and agreed unanimously on Mr. Heastie, although at least three other members of the Assembly had said they were interested in the post.

The sentiment that seemed to be shared across the board was that Mr. Silver’s arrest and its aftermath has been a major distraction for lawmakers in Albany. “The frustration was that we should have moved on. We’ve canceled sessions… closed down budget committees. There was no need for that,” said Mr. Lopez.

Ms. Barrett said that “people were very eager to get back to work and kind of move past this.”

Assemblyman McLaughlin could not be reached for comment, but he posted a link to a Time Warner Cable News article on his Facebook that described him as “the most notoriously anti-Sheldon Silver lawmaker,” which McLaughlin described as “high praise.”

Now that the Assembly has elected a new speaker, members expect to get back to work on the budget, among other legislation. Mr. Lopez said that “the uncertainty is ebbing, [but] we’re about a month behind what we should be.”

Ms. Barrett said that with the election of Mr. Heastie, “There’s a level of excitement. There’s a lot of good will… We’ve moved right in after his speech to working on the budget.”


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