Mar 24th - 11:09 pm
With a new leader in the State Assembly there’s new optimism a few proposed laws that have been blocked will finally make it to the floor for a vote this legislative session. One piece of legislation would eliminate a loophole in the state’s hit-and-run law.
It’s called Alix’s law, after Western New York teenager Alix Rice who was hit and killed by a drunk driver in 2011. After four years of waiting, Rice’s father told Time Warner Cable News Reporter Ryan Whalen he has high hopes under new Speaker Carl Heastie
“Our new Speaker has a golden opportunity at this time to put a positive stamp on his leadership of this Assembly,” said Richard Rice.
Under the proposed law, drivers would not be able to argue they were unaware they hit a person or caused damage to property, if they were drunk. The man who hit and killed Alix Rice was convicted of a misdemeanor, but avoided conviction on the more serious charges he faced.
Rice believes former Speaker Sheldon Silver was only thing standing in the way of the bill that was passed again this year in the State Senate.
“When I talked to him about it he said it was just too controversial to introduce to the Assembly,” Rice said.
The bill has another thing going for it, it’s sponsored in the Assembly by Buffalo’s Crystal Peoples-Stokes. Stokes is a strong ally of Speaker Heastie and hasn’t been shy about exercising her new found influence.
Much like the new found optimism surrounding the Mixed Martial Arts legislation, in a “post-Silver Assembly,” Rice feels the bill is closer to becoming law than it’s ever been. Still he’s keeping his fingers crossed.
“It will give me a feeling that she did something great for the world even though it wasn’t really by choice,” Rice added.
Mar 4th - 7:29 am
Today is March 4. Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his 30-day budget amendments, which jammed the Legislature by stuffing ever more policy (particularly ethics reforms) into appropriations bills, on Feb. 21 – almost two weeks ago.
So far, neither the Senate nor the Assembly has introduced Cuomo’s amendments – a move required before they can be formally considered by state lawmakers.
As Newsday’s Mike Gormley reported, the Assembly issued a statement Sunday night pledging to get the introduction process started, but gave no timeline for doing so. And, as of last night, the chamber still had yet to take action.
In a statement given to Gormley over the weekend and re-issued to me last night, Mike Whyland, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, said the amendments would “of course” be printed “because the Constitution requires us to act on them as submitted.”
“We are reviewing them with members,” Whyland continued, “and we continue to negotiate in good faith on all of the issues – including the ethics reform package. We will be meeting with the governor to further discuss the budget this week.”
Sources familiar with the Senate Republicans’ thinking say they are holding back on introductions because they’re reviewing “all options” in response to the governor’s hardball budget tactics – including a possible lawsuit revisiting the landmark 2004 Court of Appeals decision on the division of budget power between the executive and legislative branches.
That decision is commonly referred to in Albany as “Silver v. Pataki,” and it’s actually the result of two separate cases brought against then-Gov. George Pataki by the Assembly, which believed he was overstepping his executive powers by inserting policy into appropriations bills, over which the Legislature has very little control.
I wrote about this issue for Capital NY a few weeks back, speaking to a number of key players in the Silver v. Pataki cases – including former Judge Robert Smith, who wrote the plurality opinion under which the Capitol is currently operating.
Most legal experts and Capitol observers agree the decision is ripe for revisitation, especially since the judges determined there is indeed a line over which the governor might step when it comes to using the budget as a policy-making vehicle. The trouble is, the court declined to define where that line is.
Most agree that the governor’s insertion of ethics reform – specifically tying per diem changes and disclosure requirements to the state comptroller’s budget – is a stretch of even the limited boundaries defined in Silver v. Pataki.
Just today, Daily News columnist Bill Hammond wrote of the “dangerous precedent” being set by Cuomo’s use of his sweeping budgetary authority, raising concerns that future governors could “easily” abuse this power.
The problem is, challenging the governor’s ethics reform push in court would be terrible for the Legislature from an optics standpoint.
The scandal-weary public is highly unlikely to understand the esoteric argument about restoring a balance of power in Albany – especially when that involves giving more of a say to the Legislature, of which most New Yorkers don’t have the highest opinion these days.
Cuomo is well aware of this, and he also believes he’s on sound legal footing, having consulted with a number of attorneys – including Pataki’s former counsel, Jim McGuire, who is widely acknowledged as the architect behind the then-governor’s winning strategy in Pataki v. Silver.
The Assembly is no happier than the Senate with Cuomo’s budget bullying, but seems a bit less anxious to challenge his authority here – perhaps due to the fact that it is still reeling from the change in leadership and trying to get its sea legs under the new speaker, Carl Heastie.
Generally speaking, lawmakers are trying to determine whether it’s worth going to war with Cuomo now, or waiting to see if he’s really serious about being willing to risk a late budget – and a government shutdown – to get what he wants in ethics reform.
In the past, Cuomo has been willing to make deals, calling half a loaf a victory. But if he deviates from his track record this time and refuses to submit new, re-negotiated budget bills before the April 1 deadline, the Legislature could be in trouble.
Feb 24th - 4:13 pm
Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Tuesday entered a not guilty plea following his indictment on three counts of fraud and extortion.
Silver’s attorney, meanwhile, sought to have a federal judge toss prosecutor’s case from court based on U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s “improper” comments on public corruption following Silver’s arrest in January.
Silver is accused of receiving $3.8 million in bribes and kickbacks that he masked as legal referrals from a doctor who was conducting research into asbestos exposure as well as real-estate interests.
“I will only say to you that once this process is over I will be vindicated, I am not guilty,” Silver outside of court.
Silver stepped down from the speaker’s post last month and was replaced by Bronx Democrat Carl Heastie. He retains his seat in the Legislature representing Lower Manhattan.
A trial is expected to begin as early as June.
Silver’s arrest ignited yet another push to enact ethics legislation at the Capitol, with lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo negotiating new laws that would regulate how outside income is disclosed.
Feb 20th - 6:57 am
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.”
Feb 19th - 1:06 pm
This post has been updated throughout:
A federal grand jury on Thursday voted to indict former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on three counts of mail and wire fraud and extortion.
Silver’s indictment by the grand jury was announced via the Twitter account for the Southern District of New York.
The indictment follows Silver’s arrest last month on a five-count criminal complaint that alleged Silver received $3.8 million in bribes and kickbacks that he masked as legal referrals for both real-estate interests as well as a doctor performing research on illnesses caused by asbestos exposure.
Silver has insisted he is innocent of the charges and expects to be vindicated.
“We can now begin to fight for his total vindication,” Silver’s attorneys said in a statement. “We will do our fighting where it should be done: in court.”
Silver was replaced at the speaker’s post earlier this month by Bronx Democrat Carl Heastie.
Federal prosecutors had until Monday to indict Silver and an arraignment is expected in the coming days.
In addition to the federal legal troubles, Silver faces a $120,000 fine from state ethics regulators for failing to disclose his outside income.
Despite the initial five-count complaint, Silver faces three charges in the official indictment: Mail and wire fraud stemming from theft of honest services as well extortion.
Federal prosecutors allege that Silver went to great lengths to conceal the breath and scope of his outside income and private practices.
According to the indictment released on Thursday, Silver “sought to prevent, and in fact prevented, the disclosure of information about his outside income to the Moreland Commission” — the anti-corruption panel Gov. Andrew Cuomo created in 2013, which was shutdown last year.
The indictment states Silver kept the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, the firm where he was of counsel until he was put on leave following his corruption arrest, in the dark about the extent of his alleged activities.
The indictment notes that Silver was hired by the firm in 2002 for $120,000 with the expectation he was not to work on or refer cases, but because of his “stature” as the speaker of the Assembly.
Silver’s arrest has spurred more talk in Albany of passing ethics legislation that would address lawmakers earning outside income, including new disclosure requirements for those who have private legal clients.
Feb 3rd - 5:24 pm
In the end, he did not hinder the process of electing a new speaker.
From his desk at the back of the chamber, Assemblyman Sheldon Silver of Manhattan cast one vote on Tuesday. It was for Bronx lawmaker Carl Heastie to succeed him as speaker of the chamber.
Silver’s fall as one of the most powerful men in state government began on Jan. 22, when he was arrested on five charges of corruption stemming from accusations that he used legal referrals to mask bribes and kickbacks totaling millions of dollars.
Ten days later, Silver has lost his gavel and the best seat in the chamber.
Re-elected to another two-year term as speaker less than a month ago, the sight of Silver as another rank-and-file legislator sitting was humbling and a stark manifestation of the loss of power.
Silver entered the chamber shortly after the roll call vote began, meandering over to a desk on the Assembly’s right-hand side near a large window covered with red draping.
Silver rocked back in the brown swivel chair to members during the voice vote for speaker as well as through most of the discussion for the resolution honoring civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King.
At one point, he opened the single drawer afforded to the small desk. It was empty.
Occasionally lawmakers — including Assemblyman Robin Schimminger and Sen. Michael Gianaris — came by to shake his hand, wish him well.
During the discussion of the resolution for King, Silver checked the messages on his Blackberry.
Other times, Silver could be seen with his chin meeting his chest, his eyes closing slightly.
Then, in the middle of discussion of the resolution, Silver got up and walked out the chamber.
He was trailed by a long line of reporters who had been waiting to speak with him.
“I’m just making a phone call, guys,” Silver said in his husky voice. “I’m just making a phone call.”
Silver clearly had his car keys with him.
Outside the chamber, Silver ran into even more reporters who were waiting for the new speaker to give his first press conference.
Silver ducked into an office off the floor of the chamber with the phone to his ear. Reporters waited in front of the office’s threshold.
The Assembly’s sergeant-at-arms, Wayne Jackson, came over to the office’s wood-paneled doors and closed both of them.
After a short time, Jackson re-opened the doors to the office.
Like a magic trick, Silver was gone.
Feb 3rd - 7:37 am
From the Morning Memo:
The speaker of the New York state Assembly is one of the most powerful positions in state government.
But Carl Heastie’s rise to replace embattled Speaker Sheldon Silver was achieved in typical Albany fashion: mostly behind closed doors.
“What happened to all the hearings, the forums, the questions,” said Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, a Clifton Park Republican. “We were going to have all the answer. Where’s this reform group in the New York state Assembly majority?”
Over the last seven days Democratic lawmakers have predominantly spent time in closed-door meetings discussing who should replace Silver and when. And a vote that was originally scheduled for February 10, will now be held Tuesday — less than two weeks after Silver was arrested on corruption charges.
“There has been a public airing,” Majority Leader Joe Morelle said. “There’s been a lot of news articles about the various candidates. We’ve gone through and talked to our colleagues. We’ve done this in a way that has always been done.”
Heastie rapidly gained the support of his colleagues over the last several days, even as reports surfaced of his heavy per diem use and the intersection of his campaigns donors and those who receive member items. Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who challenged Heastie for the speakership until it was clear he had enough votes to win, decried the fast-moving process.
“I think it was ill-advised,” Nolan said. “We did say we were going to do Feb. 10. But sometimes that happens.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers at times have defended the closed-door meetings, noting they can’t have frank conversations in the glare of the klieg lights.
But often lawmakers have emerged from the meetings to reveal little of what was discussed.
Heastie himself met with a group of reform minded lawmakers Monday afternoon and emerged to say little.
“It wouldn’t be a private conversation if I told about the conversation,” Heastie said afterword.
Good government groups, meanwhile, had hoped for a more open process in selecting a speaker.
“If they really stand behind the words that they put out on reform than they should have done something to demand this be a much more public process,” said Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey.
The transparency issues manifested themselves in different ways, beyond the closed-door process.
During the leadership fight, access to normally public hallways at the Capitol like this one behind me has been restricted.
Assembly officials said it was to keep order in the building.
Feb 2nd - 4:44 pm
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.
Feb 2nd - 2:27 pm
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.
Jan 29th - 1:37 pm
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.”