Special Elections Set For May 5

As expected, Gov. Andrew Cuomo this morning set May 5 as the date to hold special elections in both the 11th congressional district and a newly vacant Assembly seat in Brooklyn.

Cuomo had been under a court order to set the date for the special election by noon today, or a federal judge would have automatically scheduled one himself.

The 11th congressional district, which covers Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, is an open seat following the resignation of Republican Michael Grimm, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion.

Brooklyn’s 43rd Assembly district became open last night following the resignation of Democrat Karim Camara, who is joining the governor’s administration in order to lead faith-based outreach programs.

The proclamation from Cuomo’s office can be viewed here.

Smith Seeks Support

Also from the Morning Memo…

Another former legislative leader, ex-Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, is considerably further along down the corruption pipeline than ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The Queens Democrat, who lost his seat in a primary last fall, was found guilty earlier this month of trying to bribe his way into the 2013 NYC mayor’s race on the GOP line.

Smith is scheduled to be sentenced on July 1 and faces up to 45 years behind bars. His attorney has said he intends to appeal.

In the meantime, however, the embattled former senator is seeking “as many letters as possible sent to the judge regarding my impact on individual lives and the community,” according to an email Smith is sending to friends and allies he says have provided “past support and prayers.”

The email, a copy of which was forwarded to CapTon, includes instruction and an attached “guideline” letter penned by Smith’s attorney, Evan Lipton. “Please help as this is critical to my life and future,” the former senator wrote.

Lipton suggests that Smith’s supporters “carefully consider” what to say to US District Court Judge Kenneth Karas to help him “come to know Malcolm as a person” and persuade him that the former senator “deserves a lenient and merciful sentence.”

“(I)t is imperative that you rely on specific, first-hand examples of how Malcolm has touched your life and the lives of others,” Lipton wrote.

“…instead of just stating conclusions about Malcolm’s character, your letter should provide facts underlying those conclusions – in other words, specific examples and experiences involving Malcolm that give rise to your view of him or his reputation within the community. Personal anecdotes of instances that portray Malcolm’s character and personality would be helpful.”

Lipton cautions letter writers that they should use their own words and not resort to “legalese”, explaining: “Rest assured that the lawyers will file all the necessary legal documents with the Court.
You should speak from your heart and present personal information and emotions about Malcolm.”

It is pretty standard for convicted offenders facing sentencing to solicit letters of support attesting to their good works and strong characters (aside from whatever it was than landed them in court to begin with) in hopes of persuading the judge to be lenient.

Ex-Sen. Malcolm Smith seeks support in face of corruption conviction. by liz_benjamin6490

Tonko Recalls ‘Honorable’ Interactions With Silver

From today’s Morning Memo, ICYMI…

Since former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest, any number of people – even some of his former allies – have expressed shock and even disgust at the charges levied against him by Bharara.

But one of his former conference members – ex-Assemblyman-turned-Congressman Paul Tonko – has only good memories of his time working in the Silver-dominated chamber. Tonko said during a CapTon interview Wednesday night (the day before Silver was formally indicted on corruption charges) that the interactions he had with the former speaker were “honorable.”

The former assemblyman also took issue with rank-and-file members’ complaints that Silver was too controlling and ruled the chamber with an iron fist.

“I was surprised by the allegations,” Tonko said. “I know that as Energy (Committee) chair, I was given gray latitude and support by the speaker to initiative energy reforms that I think have transitioned us to a pretty good spot in the national scene. This state is looked to often times for sound energy reform and transformation, innovation. That happened because he enabled us. He delegated.”

Tonko said he disagrees with Bharara’s painting of Albany as a big cesspool of corruption, saying:

“It’s a broad brush that is paining everyone here. I served with a number of people who were devoted public servants, who made this their No. 1 priority, and they did it squeaky clean. They were great to work with, and I would suggest that was the majority of folks.”

“…If some of these situations occur, let’s work on a system that provides for the transparency,” the Capital Region Democrat continued. “But to just suggest that everybody is not honorable in the system can take us into such broad interpretation of the fix that’s rehired that you might scare away from very good minds and heats that would serve the public well.”

Senate Democrats: Pass Ethics Bills Now, Not In Budget (Updated)

Senate Democrats on Monday unveiled a package of ethics reform legislation that would cap outside income, strengthen disclosure requirements and close a loophole in campaign finance laws that guarantees unlimited contributions from limited liability corporations.

The ethics push comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to push his own ethics overhaul legislation in the budget negotiations – even if it means a late spending plan – which would be the first of his tenure as governor.

“I know the governor is frustrated, we’re frustrated,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat. “I think the most important thing is to make sure the people of New York know the people who they sent to work for them, are actually working for them.”

Should lawmakers and the governor fail to agree to ethics legislation, a shutdown of state government could be triggered.

“I’m hoping we don’t have to hold up the budget for it,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Obviously, a lot of work has to be done. We’re hoping to grease the wheel by supporting the fact that ethics is of paramount importance and has to happen.”

The latest iteration of ethics reform comes after Manhattan Democrat Sheldon Silver was arrested last month on corruption charges. Silver was forced to resign as speaker of the Assembly – a post he had held since 1994.

Stewart-Cousins at a Capitol news conference said the bills her conference is proposing should not wait for the budget process to be completed, but instead be taken up now.

“We firmly believe that we need to pass these ethics reforms now,” she said. “We need to pass our bills now. It shouldn’t have to be part of the budget conversation at all, to be quite honest.”

Cuomo has fended off criticism that the Silver arrest shows the shutdown of the anti-corruption Moreland Commission was premature, saying the panel worked the way it should have.

The panel was shuttered after Cuomo struck a deal with the Legislature on new ethics and anti-corruption measures in the state budget last year.

Stewart-Cousins this afternoon said the panel’s closure was beside the point.

“I always say had we as the Legislature taken up that charge when it was clearly before us, there would be no need for a Moreland Commission,” she said.

Updated: Senate Republicans weighed in.

“Rather than issue press releases and grandstand, Senate Republicans are working with the Governor and the Assembly to get real results and real reforms that improve our state’s ethics and disclosure laws,” said Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif.

Changing the Guard

One of my classic, earliest interactions with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie came in 2012. I was relatively new on the Albany beat, and had stopped into the Center Square Pub on State Street to grab some you know, um, “food.” New to the city ( as well as the beat ) I was flying solo. Just for the record: I am completely fine with that. I don’t know what kind of judgments all of you are making in your heads right now, but like I said, I was totally comfortable going there by myself.

No, really…I mean it. I was.

Sitting at one of the tables near the bar were Carl Heastie, former Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson and a couple of other folks from the good Borough of the Bronx. I moseyed on over and saddled up across from Gibson, who now serves in the City Council. We chatted about the usual things that people who follow state government discuss. We talked some shop, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed the look on Heastie’s face. It was absolutely classic. It basically said, “who is this guy?!? And what on earth makes him think he can come sit here with me and my fellow members?!”

I smiled and introduced myself, and he warmed up a bit. But it was a small window into Heastie’s milieu. He isn’t often gregarious, and he can be a tough nut to crack. He’s serious, but also fair. A guy who will likely stay in your corner – if only you can only win him over. In some respects he is similar to the man he succeeds. Shelly Silver could also be a man of few words. But he said what needed to be said when it came time to protect his interests or those of fellow Democrats he was elected to represent.

That might explain why sources are telling me that while NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio was an early supporter of Heastie for speaker, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was not. Chris Smith already detailed some of this in New York Magazine the other day. Officially, both the mayor and the governor claim to have remained neutral in the race. But I was told that at least some Assembly members received calls from unions and the Working Families Party on behalf of Heastie as early Friday, Jan. 23rd – the day after Silver was arrested.

Cuomo, I’m told, also reached out to unions and other power brokers but on behalf of Majority Leader Joe Morelle. When informed that a Morelle speakership wasn’t going to fly, the governor’s next choice was his former handpicked Democratic State Party co-chairman, Assemblyman Keith Wright. But at that point, it was too late. Heastie had more or less locked up the election.

So, why would De Blasio be happy about Heastie in the speaker’s office, but not Cuomo?

Easy, Heastie is an independent guy. He will advocate strongly for the issues and causes city Democrats care most about. That is good for the mayor. But who that is not necessarily good for is Cuomo. The governor prides himself on making sure no one is left out of his vision for the state. That includes the suburbs and upstate, whose residents have often felt their needs get overshadowed by the city’s. In short, Heastie is not someone Cuomo can roll.

Fast forward through those 13 crazy days in January and February that saw Silver get arrested, and the historic rise of a new speaker to fill his place. Heastie has emerged as the person to watch in 2015. In one of his lighter moments, he told us in an interview last week ( in response to the oh-so pertinent question, ‘what is your favorite 80s movie? ) that his favorite movie from that era is “Purple Rain.”

I am also a huge Prince fan, although I would probably consider myself more in the Michael Jackson camp if forced to choose between the two biggest pop stars of my youth. I’m reminded of a very funny Robert Townsend skit from that era starring the late great Robin Harris as a police captain with Prince serving as one of his detectives and he tells him: “Hey, Prince get yourself a man’s suit…and stop wearing your sister’s clothes!”

Yes, Prince and Michael Jackson were highly ridiculed even in that era. But there is no shame in loving Prince or “Purple Rain” for that matter. Although the new speaker might have to one day admit that “Under the Cherry Moon” kinda sucked.

Nolan Congratulates Heastie, Ends Speaker Bid

Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, the lone remaining challenger to Assemblyman Carl Heastie to succeed Assemblyman Sheldon Silver as speaker, issued a statement this afternoon congratulating her Bronx colleague on securring sufficient support to lay claim to the leadership post, but also said she would have “preferred” a vote on Feb. 10, as the Democratic conference originally agreed.

“I did not drop out of this process even as many reported various vote totals and withdrawn candidacies because I think, in this crisis, it is essential that all members of the state Legislature examine our rules and look closely at proposals for reform and openness,” Nolan said.

“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 decisions. Indeed, 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.”

In her statement Nolan didn’t officially end her bid to be speaker, as three men before her – Manhattan Assemblyman Keith Wright; Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol and Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, of Rochester – did last week in the face of Heastie’s seemingly unstoppable momentum.

But she admitted she does not have the votes to win this race, which would have made her the first woman speaker in New York history, and congratulated Heastie on the historic nature of his victory. (He’ll be the first African American to hold the position).

“I am as aware of the historic nature of Assemblyman Carl Heastie’s candidacy as I am of my own,” Nolan said. “I believe that I have put at least a scratch in the glass ceiling for women. I congratulate Assemblyman Heastie and I understand the joy that his election will bring to all communities of our state. I offer both Assemblyman Heastie and Majority Leader Morelle my support and willingness to work hard for the people of New York.”

In a subsequent conversation with reporters down at the state Capitol, Nolan officially announced she is dropping her challenge to Heastie, clearing the way for his election as speaker. She also informed the media that some of her Democratic colleagues are now pushing for an even earlier vote on Heastie that would take place at midnight tonight. Silver last Friday announced he would be resigning the position effective 11:59 p.m.

If that’s the case, then Morelle won’t even be able to claim the title of “interim speaker” for just a few hours.

Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan statement on speaker bid. by liz_benjamin6490

Silver Arrives At The Capitol

Sheldon Silver arrived at the Capitol this afternoon, the final day he holds the post of Assembly speaker.

The Manhattan Democrat said little to reporters as he strolled into a hallway off the Assembly chambers. He would not say who he supports to replace him, but reiterated he intends to vote for his successor, which is likely to be Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie.

Lawmakers could vote for Heastie to succeed Silver as early as tomorrow, though some members – including Manhattan Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who was once named as a potential Silver successor herself, are now pushing to stick to the Feb. 10 vote on which they agreed last week.

Asked when the vote should come, Silver said: “I think it should be as quickly as possible.”

Silver is due to resign the leadership post he’s held since 1994 at 11:59 p.m. tonight. He will remain a rank-and-file member of the Assembly as he fights the federal corruption charges lodged against him by US Attorney Preet Bharara.

Assembly Democrats are due to meet again this afternoon to discuss the leadership vote, as well as have a budget briefing.

“I think we’ll see in conference if there’s enough support,” said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, of Westcheser, regarding the push to hold the speaker vote tomorrow. “If there’s enough support, it would make sense to vote tomorrow then we move on.”

Good-government groups today raised concerns with the relatively closed-door process of selecting a new speaker. Indeed, the flow of both information and access in the Capitol has been restricted since Silver’s arrest.

A hallway off the Assembly chamber normally open to reporters and the public has been all but shut down, accessible only by legislative staff and lawmakers. The chamber itself, usually unlocked when the Assembly is not in session, has also been off-limits since Silver’s arrest.

“I would have liked time, but now everybody has pulled out,” Paulin said.

Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan remains in the race for speaker, but at this point appears to have little support to defeat Heastie. Nolan said she supports a Feb. 10 vote.

“That’s what I would recommend,” she said this afternoon. “It would be up to the conference to change their mind.”

Nolan demurred, too, when asked if lawmakers should reconsider their support for Heastie given reports about his high rate of reimbursement for per diem expenses, missed votes, heavy reliance on itemized campaign finance expenditures (which drew the attention of the now-defunct Moreland Commission), as well as member items being directed to campaign donors.

“I’m a candidate, and I’ve never run a dirty race,” she replied.

Heastie Outlines Ethics Rules Proposals

Carl Heastie, the Bronx Democrat in line to become the next speaker of the state Assembly, outlined a trio of ethics rules changes on Monday for the chamber he hopes to lead.

“I believe we must seize this opportunity for reform, and enact the type of lasting change that will make the Assembly more open, transparent, and accountable to the voters,” Heastie said in a statement.”I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop and implement reforms like these, and others, so that the Assembly can regain the voters trust and start a new chapter.”

Heastie pledged to enacted an Office of Ethics and Compliance that would provide “guidance” to lawmakers on existing income and ethics rules.

At the same time, a three-person team of lawmakers would search for an executive director who is not a member of the Assembly be a “preeminent expert” on ethics laws.

Heastie also pledged to create new accountability and openness on per diem expenses, and promised to work with the office of state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (a former assemblyman from Long Island) on new oversight.

Heastie reiterated a vow to resign as Bronx County Democratic Committee chairman, and also repeated his support for capping outside income for lawmakers.

Heastie’s own per diem use as well his campaign finance spending has come under scrutiny in recent days as his rise to the position of speaker appeared to be a done deal. He promised to “consider proposals” that would create a full-time Legislature and completely ban outside income.

The Bronx assembylman’s focus on ethics changes comes after a group of reform-minded Democrats in the chamber have pushed speaker candidates to backa host of reforms that would decentralize some of the power of the speakership and give more clout to rank-and-file members.

Democrats are due to meet privately today to discuss when to hold a leadership vote to replace Sheldon Silver as speaker, who resign that post this evening at 11:59 p.m. Heastie and his supporters say the vote should be held ASAP – as early as tomorrow – and not on Feb. 10, which is the date the conference agreed on last week.

However, since some less-than-favorable stories have come out about Heastie over the past several days, several members and good government advocates are suggesting it would be better to take the time to fully vet the candidates (Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, of Queens, is still in the running) and provide some openess to the process of selecting someone to replace Silver. In the meantime, Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, of Rochester, would serve as the interim speaker until a permanent replacement for Silver is selected.

Under Heastie, Committee Chairs May Stay Put For Now (Updated)

In the short term, lawmakers do not expect Carl Heastie to make wholesale changes to the Assembly’s leadership structure if he succeeds – as it now appears he will – in becoming the chamber’s next speaker.

A number of lawmakers with deep ties to the embattled incumbent speaker, Sheldon Silver, have key committee chairmanships: Denny Farrell at Ways and Means, for example; Joe Lentol at Codes and Deborah Glick at Higher Education – to name a few.

Already, Heastie has pledged to keep Joe Morelle, of the Rochester area, the majority leader, publicly announcing that intention not long after Morelle announced he was ending his bid for the speakership and throwing his support to Heastie. Farrell, too, is expected to stay Ways and Means chairman – at least through the budget season.

Lentol, who had sought the speakership until bowing out on Thursday and backing Heastie, acknowledged the Bronx Democrat is likely to make changes.

“If he decides in his wisdom to make changes, he’ll make them,” Lentol said. “It doesn’t make sense for him in the beginning of his tenure to change things all over the place. That’s just my opinion…I didn’t have the temerity to ask for anything. It’s up to him. He’s going to be the speaker.”

But Lentol made a pitch, too, for saying on as chairman of his committee, which will have a key role to play this year as lawmakers mull criminal justice reforms in response to the upheaval surrounding the Michael Brown an Eric Garner cases.

“I think I can help (Heastie) as Codes Committee chairman and help him with the tumult of becoming speaker,” Lentol said.

Heastie is expected to become speaker as early as next week. Silver is expected to vacate the office on Monday and state lawmakers today said they expected a vote either Monday or Tuesday.

Silver will not be resigning his seat in the Assembly as he he battles federal corruption charges. He isn’t required to give up his seat unless he is convicted of a felony. It’s not clear where Silver will be assigned to sit in the chamber once he is no longer speaker, though Lentol expects him to be in the back of the room, with other senior members.

The back of the chamber is actually a choice spot, given the proximity it offers to staff.

UPDATE: A source close to Heastie confirms the speaker-in-waiting isn’t planning to make any wholesale changes once he takes the speaker’s chair.

“One thing about (Heastie), he’s very deliberate,” said the source, who has been in close contact with the Bronx assemblyman throughout the speaker’s race. “You can’t step in amid a budget process and make everythig chaotic. You need to keep as much institutional knowledge in place…Once the budget is done, he can take a long break to breathe, and then look at what needs to get done.”

In other words: There will be changes under the Heastie regime, but not in the near term.

This source said Heastie did not make any promises to members regarding committee or leadership posts in return for votes. There are, however, several empty positions available for him to dole out, some of which are high profile and/or carry big lulus – including speaker pro tempore ($22,000) and assistant speaker ($25,000), held by former Long Island Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, and former Brooklyn Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs, respectively.

The Environmental Committee and the Aging Committee are also currently without chairs, thanks to the retirement at the end of last year of Long Island Assemblyman Robert Sweeney and Brooklyn Assemblywoman Joan Millman.

On Wednesday, a joint legislative budget hearing on the environmental portion of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2015-16 budget was held regardless of the committee vacancy in the Assembly.

Also worth watching: The future of the Education Committee, currently chaired by Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who so far has refused to join her (now former) fellow speaker candidates and drop out of the race to clear the way for Heastie. Nolan is an outspoken champion of public schools, and a strong NYSUT/UFT ally. Losing her at a time when the unions are gearing up for a major battle with Cuomo over education reform would be disruptive – to say the least.

It would be difficult for Heastie to bounce Nolan, however, even if she hangs in until the bitter end with her bid for the speaker post. Punishing her would run counter to the “reform” mantra the Assembly Democrats – including Heastie – have been repeating in the face of Silver’s demise, and it also would not likely sit will with the female members of the conference.

Lentol Claims Brooklyn Support (Updated)

Assemblyman Carl Heastie’s team is working overtime to make him look like the inevitable winner of the speaker’s race, and while he is indeed perceived as the frontrunner at this point, his fellow contenders aren’t quite ready to throw in the towel.

Assemblyman Joe Lentol, chair of the Assembly Codes Committee, sent out a statement this afternoon announcing that after speaking to his fellow Brooklynites, he has secured the “support of the delegation” to continue his effort to succeed Assemblyman Sheldon Silver.

Lentol didn’t get into specifics – like exactly how many of the delegation’s members have given him their assurance of support. (I assume he supports himself, so that’s one certain vote). Also, he didn’t mention Brooklyn Democratic Chairman Frank Seddio, who is himself a former member of the Assembly – much like Queens Democratic Chairman Joe Crowley, who is now a congressman).

A Democratic county chair who is supporting one of Lentol’s rivals, Assemblyman Carl Heastie (chair of the Bronx Demoratic Party), told me last night that the Brooklyn Democrats were poised to annonuce their support of Heastie, who already counts his former opponent and fellow county chair (Manhattan) Assemblyman Keith Wright among his backers.

Maybe Lentol is trying to get out in front of that announcement? Unclear.

Also, we’re expecting to hear something from Queens today. Crowley is back from his overseas travels with President Obama and called a noon meeting at party HQ of the borough’s Assembly delegation to discuss the speaker race. Queens has 18 members who tend to vote in a block. There has been considerable speculation about where Crowley might land, but the safe money at this point is on Heastie – especially when you consider the fact that a sizable chunk of Crowley’s own district is in the Bronx.

UPDATE: Well, minus one Brooklyn member for Lentol. Assemblyman Walter Mosley sent out a statement not long ago declaring his support for Heastie. Mosley, who was elected in 2012, identified himself in the statement as the second vice chair of the Black, Hispanic, Puerto Rican and Asian Legislative Caucus, which has some 30 members, and will be a significant force in the speaker’s race – should its members decide to all unite behind one candidate.

Mosley also signed the reform caucus letter than went out earlier today. He was one of 23 members to do so.

“I am proud to endorse Assemblyman Carl Heastie for Speaker of the New York State Assembly,” Mosley said. “I am confident that he will usher in reforms that will serve as a catalyst to make Albany work even better for New York.”

“This legislative session is filled with difficult decisions and with Assemblyman Heastie’s vision and leadership the Democratic conference will benefit exponentially. Carl has a history as a consensus builder and my colleagues need only look towards him to see that he is the diversity that is needed in Albany’s leadership.”