Silver to Retain Speaker Title, But Cede Control to 5 Members

Embattled Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has bowed to pressure coming from both from his own members and outside his Democratic conference and agreed to cede control of the chamber while he battles the legal charges against him, a spokesman confirmed.

“The Speaker is not stepping down,” Silver spokesman Michael Whyland insisted in a statement released late yesterday. “He is appointing a group of senior members to undertake various responsibilities such as budget negotiations to ensure a timely spending plan for the state.”

“This will give him the flexibility he needs so that he can defend himself against these charges, and he is confident that he will be found innocent.”

According to the Daily News, which first reported the deal, the five members are: Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, of Rochester: Ways and Means Committee Chairman Denny Farrell, of Manhattan; Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who chairs the Education Committee; Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol, chair of the Codes Committee; and Assemblyman Carl Heastie, who does double duty as chair of the Bronx Democratic Party.

Whyland said Silver will not be relinquishing his title as speaker.

The agreement came at the end of a weekend of furious behind-the-scenes maneuvering in which Silver’s members, many of whom pronounced their continued support of him following his arrest on corruption charges late last week, increasingly questioned his ability to lead in what’s shaping up to be a difficult budget season.

As newspaper editorial boards called for Silver to resign his leadership post, the speaker initially dug in, refusing to do so. He was benefitted by the fact that he has no clear successor and – clearly, given the nature of this deal – no consensus among his membership as to who, if anyone, should replace him.

Each of the five-member leadership team has been mentioned as a potential Silver successor, with Farrell and Lentol – both veteran members and longtime Silver loyalists – floated as so-called “caretakers” who might lead until the conference could agree on a long-term replacement.

Nolan was floated last week by the Queens Democratic Party, which has managed to consolidate power by having almost all of its 18 members hang together to vote in a bloc.

As majority leader, Morelle is technically next in line should Silver step down. He is well-liked inside the conference, but the fact that he hails from upstate and is close to Gov. Andrew Cuomo had been seen as a detriment to observers trying to game out the speakership race in recent days.

Heastie, who ostensibly controls 11 votes as Bronx Democratic chairman, has long been mentioned as a potential Silver successor, along with Assemblyman Keith Wright, chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party.

Both Heastie and Wright are African American, and would make history as the first black leader of a majority legislative conference if they were to rise to the position of speaker. Similarly, Nolan would be the first woman to hold the post.

(In December 2012, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins became the first black woman ever to hold a legislative leadership at the state Capitol. Former Senate Minority Leader/Gov. David Paterson, who is also black, was the first to break the color barrier when he was the first non-white member elected to head the Democratic conference in the Senate in November 2002).

Wright is the lone member seriously mentioned as a potential Silver successor who was not included in the five-member leadership team.

According to Capital NY, none of the five members who will be taking charge of the chamber have commented on their new roles.

The division of power and responsibilities has not yet been explained, though the NY Post reported that Morelle and Farrell, who, as Ways and Means Committee chair has long headed up budget debates and hearings for the Democrats, will be overseeing budget negotiations.

This power-sharing idea still has to pass muster with the rest of the conference, and there’s been at least one report that rank-and-file members are skeptical the idea will work.

Silver is scheduled to meet with the conference later this morning for the first time since his arrest. A number of downstate members traveled to Albany last night to get ahead of the massive snowstorm that is scheduled to hit New York City and move northward.

The Assembly is expected to go into session in the afternoon, and Democrats have been worried that the Republicans might try to force a procedural vote on Silver, putting members on the record in a way that could be used against them in the next election cycle.

Langworthy Says Kearns Should Replace Silver As Speaker

When Assemblyman Mickey Kearns announced he would not caucus with his party until Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stepped down, few people outside Western New York even noticed.  Thursday following Silver’s arrest on fraud and corruption charges, the South Buffalo Democrat seemed to offer a bit of an ‘I told you so’ to the Assembly Democratic Conference.

“What I’m surprised about is how long he’s lasted. We had proof that there were young girls that were under oppression that were being abused by some of my colleagues and that wasn’t good enough to remove him from office,” Kearns said.

Kearns has been a vocal critic of Silver since the Vito Lopez scandal but only Charles Barron, a freshman Democrat from Brooklyn, joined him in not supporting Silver as Speaker earlier this month.  That’s something a well known WNY Republican leader was quick to point out Thursday night.

“I want to know where our local delegation, you know, Sean Ryan and Robin Schimminger and Crystal Peoples (-Stokes), where they stand on Shelly Silver’s leadership,” said Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy.

Ryan did release a statement saying he was “disturbed” by the allegations but few Western New York Democrats outside of the Assembly Majority Leader had anything to say.

“Perhaps they should look to Mickey Kearns as the new Speaker of the Assembly. He’s a Democrat. He’s a reformer. He’s somebody that really brings a bipartisan approach to government and he could get things done,” said Langworthy.

This isn’t the first time Langworthy has been supportive of Kearns.  He allowed Kearns to run on the Republican line during his first run for the Assembly in a 2012 special election.

Kearns himself knows it’s unlikely the Democratic Caucus would welcome him back with open arms let alone vote for him as Speaker.  When asked who he’d like to see replace Silver, Kearns was intentionally vague.

“Anyone who’s not under indictment or investigation would be better than Speaker Silver right now,” Kearns added.

Silver’s ’08 Opponent: ‘Sad Day for NY’

So far, there hasn’t been a lot in the way of reaction from lawmakers in Albany. (It’s pretty early yet, and the NYT story broke after midnight).

But Democratic District Leader Paul Newell, one of two Democrats who mounted long-shot and unsuccessful primary challenges to Silver in 2008 – the speaker’s first Democratic primary contest in over two decades – was the first to release a statement.

Newell, who represents the 65th AD (Silver’s district), said if the report of the speaker’s imminent arrest is true, then it is a “sad day for Lower Manhattan, and a sad day for New York.”

“I can’t speak to the specific charges against the Speaker,” Newell added. “But I can say that outside income for legislators is a certain recipe for corruption. Speaker Silver and Majority Leader Skelos should have banned it long ago.”

“The 65th Assembly District, and all New Yorkers, deserve better.”

If Silver is lead away in cuffs today, it will definitely strengthen the position of Gov. Andrew Cuomo is many ways – not the least of which is his push for a cap on outside income by state lawmakers and more transparency in the reporting of what they earn while moonlighting.

3rd Time’s A Charm? Powell Declares For Rangel’s Seat

Former Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV is formally declaring his intention to run for a third time for the seat occupied by veteran Harlem Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel, who has said the two-year term he is currently serving will be his last in Congress.

“This is not an exploratory committee,” Powell wrote in an email sent by his campaign committee just before 6 p.m. this evening. (Sort of strange timing, given the fact that much of the political world is prepping for the President’s State of the Union tonight and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State/budget address tomorrow). “I’ve been exploring this district for over 20 years. It’s time to run.”

“I know this congressional district as well as anyone. From El Barrio to Harlem to Washington Heights & Inwood to the Bronx, I’ve represented various parts of this district in the City Council and in the State Assembly. Most of the leaders in these various neighborhoods are people I know and have worked with throughout the years. I hope you pray for me and join me in this exciting journey.”

Powell also noted his long-standing history with the district (albeit in a different, pre-redistricting configuration), pointing out his father, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., created the seat and served as New York’s first black member of Congress from 1944-1970 – the year he was ousted by Rangel.

“We need a progressive voice to preserve the rich history of these last 70 years,” Powell continued. I intend to run for that seat.”

This isn’t a big surprise. Powell recently told the NY Observer that he would likely take one more shot at a congressional run when the 84-year-old Rangel’s current term ends in 2016. He lost primary challenges to Rangel in 1996 and 2010, but endorsed him in 2012 and 2014 when the congressman fought off multiple primary challengers.

Powell, who is now a lobbyist, has said he believes he can win in the district despite the fact that a majority of its residents are now Latino.

It’s a safe bet that the race for Rangel’s seat – assuming he makes good on his pledge and does not seek re-election – will be quite crowded. Assemblyman Keith Wright, the Manhattan Democratic chairman, has long been mentioned as a potential Rangel replacement, and perhaps the top candidate in the congressman’s eyes, should he be able to select his own successor.

Also mentioned: Sen. Adriando Espaillat, who came close to beating Rangel in the 2012 and 2014 Democratic primaries; former Gov. David Paterson, Sen. Bill Perkins, NYC Councilwoman Inez Dickens, and the Rev. Michael Walrond, who ran in the 2014 primary and received 8 percent of the vote.

Rosenthal: Assembly Woman Will Drive Dem Approach to WEA

Also from the Morning Memo:

In the wake of the Senate’s passage this week of eight of the 10 planks in Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act (minus, yet again, the controversial abortion-rights piece), Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver accused the Republicans of approving “watered down” versions of the bills.

He refused to respond to GOP calls for the Democrat-led Assembly to follow the Senate’s lead, passing those parts of the WEA on which the two houses can agree and leaving the abortion battle to be fought another day.

Silver said it would be up to his conference to decide whether to go the piecemeal route or to continue to insist on an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to this particular package of bills.

But ultimately, it will be the women of the conference who will drive the decision, according to Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal.

“It’s a brand-new year, it’s a brand-new session; this is a subject that the women of the Assembly – including at least five new ones – will be meeting to discuss with the speaker to see what our options are,” Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat, said during a CapTon interview last night.

“But we’re certainly not bound by anything the Republican Senate has done.”

“I think we’re going to approach this systematically,” the assemblywoman continued. “…and we’re going to develop, as a women’s caucus, a position on how we’re going to proceed this session. The women have gotten together. We’re acting in concert much more than ever in the past.”

The problem here is that the women in the Democratic conference aren’t necessarily of one mind on this issue.

Though they initially stuck together on the push for all 10 WEA planks – providing crucial cover in the process for the speaker, who was under fire for his handling of the Vito Lopez sexual harassment case – a few members struck out on their own last year, saying the time had come to pass those WEA bills on which the Senate and Assembly could agree.

That’s a position NOW NYC Chapter President Sonia Ossorio also supports.

Cuomo made the WEA a top campaign issue during his successful bid for a second four-year term last fall, even going so far as to create a new party solely for the purpose of focusing on women’s rights (and galvanizing a very important voting bloc).

Cuomo mentioned the WEA during his election night victory speech, and is expected to do so again during his State of the State/budget address on Jan. 21.

Tracey Brooks of Family Planning Advocates of NYS appeared on CapTon Tuesday night following the Senate vote and expressed disappointment that the chamber had again left out the abortion-rights plank.

Brooks left the door open to possibly changing the wording of the abortion bill (yet again) in order to make it more amenable to Republican lawmakers.

She also declined to speak in absolute terms about the all-or-nothing approach, noting there’s a long time between now and the scheduled end of the 2015 session in June.

Lentol’s Wish List for Criminal Justice Reform

In today’s Morning Memo, Nick Reisman reports:

State lawmakers have adopted a wait-and-see approach for what criminal justice reforms Gov. Andrew Cuomo may propose when he delivers his combined State of the State and budget address one week from today.

Senate Republicans starting this month will hold a series of hearings on the issue, with Majority Leader Dean Skelos pledging to review whether elected officials helped create a negative atmosphere that ultimately played a role in the recent shooting deaths of two New York City police officers.

Assembly Democrats, however, are looking in a different direction.

Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Joe Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat, is pushing some long-sought reform measures favored by defense attorneys and Democratic lawmakers in both houses.

Republicans and Democrats both expect a deliberative approach to the issue, raised after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold-related death of Eric Garner.

“It will be kind of like a work in progress,” Lentol said. “We’ve been trying to pass a number of reforms that could help make the criminal justice system operate better. And by operate better, I mean ease certain tensions in the minority community.”

In an interview, Lentol said he would like to see changes to laws governing witness identification such as double-blind lineups and the videotaping of interrogations, in addition to reforming the discovery process in criminal cases.

“We’ve tried to get them done in the Assembly, but they’ve never seen the light of day in the Senate,” Lentol said, adding: “Those are three big reforms that need to be done before we even start talking about grand juries and special prosecutors.”

Senate Republicans plan to hold a series of hearings on criminal justice issues starting this month, but have shown little willingness to take up previously proposed measures in the Democratic-led Assembly.

Skelos, who has been critical of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s public statements supportive of protests and demonstrations following the Garner decision, said the hearings will examine the atmosphere in which the two officers were killed.

“We have to remember there have been 50 assassinations of police officers in this country in the past year,” Skelos said. “Is it the mood that’s being projected elected officials? What can we do to protect our police officers?”

“Because people disagree on the outcome of the grand jury does not mean you trash the whole thing,” the senator added.

Added protections for law enforcement could be an area of bipartisan agreement. For example, Lentol said he backed a proposal from GOP lawmakers to install bulletproof glass in squad cars.

“It’s a top priority,” Lentol said. “It’s very simple to start out with bulletproof glass. How expensive could that be? There are a lot of other safety measures that we can take. We can do that together.”

Minus Two Staffers for Schneiderman (Updated)

AG Eric Schneiderman is starting the new year with a couple of holes to fill on his staff.

The DN’s Ken Lovett reported this morning that Andrew Friedman, who has served as Schneiderman’s deputy communications director for less than two years, is departing to take a job at the influential political consulting firm BerlinRosen. Friedman started his new job today at the New York City-based firm, which has strong ties to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Shortly after noon, the Albany-based lobbying and law firm Malkin & Ross announced that another Schneiderman staffer, Justin Berhaupt, has jumped ship to join its ranks. Berhaupt, an Albany Law School grad and Delmar resident, had served as the AG’s legislative advisor.

While working for Schneiderman, Berhaupt , who is also a former Assembly staffer and Senate counsel, was the strategist behind I-STOP – the real-time database of controlled substance prescriptions as a means to reduce addiction and diversion – and the Nonprofit Revitalization Act of 2013, which reformed and modernized the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law for the first time since the 1970’s.

“Justin’s knowledge of the Legislature will be invaluable to our clients, as well as his experience in private law practice and on the campaign trail,” said Artie Malkin, co-founder of M&R.

Both BerlinRosen and Malkin & Ross (or M&R, as it’s also known), are generally Democrat-leaning firms, which represent “progressive” candidates, issues and elected officials.

UPDATE: The AG only has one hole to fill – the one left by Friedman’s departure. Kate Powers, who spent the past four years as legislative director for Department of Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky, is replacing Berhaupt.

Buffalo Democrat Renews Call To Replace Silver

When Democrats in the state Assembly return to Albany to decide whether or not Sheldon Silver will continue on as speaker, a Buffalo Democrat will not be among them.  Mickey Kearns no longer caucuses with his party after his repeated calls for new leadership went unanswered.

“Enough is enough and we’ve got to do things differently in New York and I think it starts with a change at the top,” Kearns said

Kearns left the Democratic conference in May of 2013 to protest Silver’s handling of the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal.  Only one other Democrat joined him at the time.

He hopes a report in the New York Times, which includes new accusations of ethics violations against Silver regarding the speaker’s failure to disclose substantial payments from a law firm, will convince his colleagues to see things differently.

“I think as things progress and we get some more information that people may begin to reassess how they see things.  We have a lot of new legislators coming in,” said Kearns.

For Kearns, replacing Silver is the first step in changing the way the Assembly does business.

“Even if Speaker Silver were to leave tomorrow and you bring a new person, he or she would still follow the same archaic rules that are in place where we can’t get bills to the floor, where the Speaker assigns chairmanships, where we don’t have independent committees. Things aren’t going to change.”

Kearns is pushing term limits for legislative leadership.  He’s also calling for a rule change that would allow any member to bring legislation to the floor for a vote.

He acknowledged the report in the New York Times is “preliminary”, but said he is anxious for “more information.”

“I’m hopeful that this once again brings the issue of ethics to the forefront in Albany,” Kearns said.

It’s an issue Kearns isn’t planning to let go – regardless of whether or not his efforts are successful this time around.

“I’ve been consistent,” Kearns added. “So consistent that I left the Democratic conference to make a statement,” Kearns added.

Gipson Communications Aide Lands With Senate Dems

Jonathon Heppner has joined the communications office of the Senate Democrats, rounding out a mainline conference press team that includes Mike Murphy and Gary Ginsburg.

Heppner most recently worked in the office of Sen. Terry Gipson, a Hudson Valley Democrat who lost his re-election to Republican Sue Serino last month.

Heppner, a lifelong resident of upstate New York, worked as a staffer on President Obama’s re-election campaign and is a graduate of Manhattanville College.

He replaces Kayla Lott, who now works in the Florida State House.

Stewart-Cousins Re-Elected Senate Minority Leader

From the Morning Memo:

Andrea Stewart-Cousins was re-elected on Tuesday the leader of the Senate Democrats following a vote in Albany by her conference.

The Yonkers Democrat, first elected to the Senate in 2006, was unanimously re-elected to lead the conference, save for Bronx Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., who was neither present for the vote or cast a proxy vote, a Senate Democratic spokesman said.

The first woman to lead a legislative conference in Albany, Stewart-Cousins in a phone interview said she has no plans to shake up the Senate Democrats’ leadership team, meaning deputy leader Mike Gianaris remains her top lieutenant.

“If it’s not broken you don’t fix it,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We have been able to work well together. I think we’ve worked well together in terms of leadership. We have a cohesive leadership team that is very, very focused on why we’re here.”

Democrats came up short in last month’s elections, losing three key upstate races and failing to unseat incumbents who hold all of the Long Island Senate districts.

Still, Stewart-Cousins said she was happy the progress the conference has made under leadership.

After all, she took charge of the Democratic conference following several years of leadership turmoil. Democrats ousted Brooklyn Sen. John Sampson in favor of Stewart-Cousins, one of the first Democratic leaders in the Senate to not represent one of the five New York City boroughs.

Sampson now faces embezzlement charges, and his immediate predecessor as Democratic conference leader, Malcolm Smith, is under indictment for attempting to bribe his way onto the New York City mayoral ballot as a Republican.

Sampson won his primary challenge, Smith lost to Sen.-elect Leroy Comrie.

But Stewart-Cousins says her conference has stabilized over the last several years, which has also seen a group of breakaway Democrats form a coalition with Senate Republicans, essentially denying the party a governing majority in the chamber.

“I think we’ve moved through the storm and each of us individually and together are stronger,” she said. “This is a great group of committed people and I think we’ve gone a long way to prove that. We’ve grown as a conference, we’ve grown as individuals. We’re certainly ready to govern, we’re cognizant of the realitty that we have a lot of offer.”

She also reiterated her priorities for next year, including continuing to boost the women’s agenda — passage of which seems doubtful with Republicans fully in charge of the Senate — as well as infrastructure spending and reforming the state’s criminal justice system.

Stewart-Cousins and her Democratic colleagues were in Albany on Tuesday to push for the creation of a special investigator to probe deaths of unarmed civilians by the police.

But whether all state lawmakers return this month for a special session for a potential legislative pay raise remains to be seen.

Stewart-Cousins said time does appear to be running out to convene both houses by next week.

“I’ve not been privy to any conversations about a special session; of course if there is one we’ll be there,” she said. “As the clock ticks on with no definitive time, it seems like it’s more difficult to pull it off before the end of the year.”