Morelle Withdraws From Race For Speaker

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle backed out of the race for speaker on Friday and threw his support behind Bronx Democrat Carl Heastie to succeed Sheldon Silver.

“Over the past several days Assemblyman Heastie and I have discussed at length how to advance the best interests of the citizens of our state by making the New York Assembly more inclusive and member-driven,” Morelle said in a statement. “Carl and I have served together and have been close friends for 15 years. I have the utmost confidence in his ability to unite our members and move the institution forward. He will have my full support.”

Morelle’s withdrawal from the race leaves Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan as the only person left to challenge Heastie for the spot.

It appears, however, that support for Heastie is rapidly coalescing. Ten suburban lawmakers from Westchester, Rockland, Orange and Long Island are backing Heastie to succeed Silver, who faces five counts of corruption and is expected to vacate the office by Monday.

Morelle’s exit could give him a boost in remaining majority leader of the Democratic conference — a post that is usually held by an upstate lawmaker given the domination of New York City holding the office of speaker.

In his statement, Morelle made a pitch for unity.

“I am incredibly grateful to the members of our conference for their ongoing friendship and support throughout this process. United and working together we continue to address the pressing challenges facing New York. It is this commitment that will guide our work over the coming year and inspire us to even greater heights,” Morelle said.

Morelle’s push to become speaker was considered an uphill climb.

As an upstate lawmaker, he was running against the history and tradition of giving the speakership to a resident of the five boroughs.

Morelle is close with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is not the most popular figure within the Assembly Democratic conference.

More broadly, Morelle is considered a moderate on fiscal issues and is close with the business community in the Rochester area.

Morelle is due to become acting speaker until Feb. 10, when an election to replace Silver is expected to be held.

Suburban Lawmakers Back Heastie

At least 10 lawmakers have signed on to backing Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie to become the next speaker of the state Assembly.

The Democratic lawmakers, who represent suburban districts north and east of New York City include: Aileen Gunther, James Skoufis, Ken Zebrowski, Ellen Jaffee, Amy Paulin, Tom Abinanti, Steve Otis, David Buchwald, Steve Enlgebright and Fred Thiele.

Two more Democrats who represent Westchester County also believed to be in line for backing Heastie to replace embattled Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is due to leave the office by Monday, bringing the number up to 12.

“He’s talking about reforms and we’re all committed to discussing and seeing how we can improve the chamber,” Zebrowski, of Rockland County, said in a phone interview. “I think as we go through this process and throughout the session, everyone will have a chance to weigh in.”

What those reforms are is yet to be fully ironed out. Lawmakers are pushing to have more input and influence over legislation drafted and pushed by the chamber.

Zebrowski indicated the changes will likely be discussed over the course of the session, along with potential rules changes in the Assembly.

“We’ll be talking about more specifically whether there are any rules changes or things that can accomplish that,” he said.

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle of the Rochester area and Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan are also in the race to succeed Silver.

Queens Democrats, however, are expected to fall in line behind Heastie becoming speaker.

Skelos Denies Being Contacted By Feds

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on Friday pushed back against a report that the Long Island Republican is under federal investigation.

The report indicated that Skelos was being scrutinized by the U.S. Attorney’s office over his outside income, which is as high as $250,000 according to a financial disclosure statement.

The report comes at a delicate time for Albany: Sheldon Silver is being forced to vacate his speakership by Monday after his arrest on charges that his private income was gained through illicit referrals.

“Last night’s thinly-sourced report by WNBC is irresponsible, and does not meet the standards of serious journalism,” said Skelos spokeswoman Kelly Cummings. “Senator Skelos has not been contacted by anyone from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. As such, we won’t be commenting further.”

Heastie: Someone Who ‘Breaks The Glass Ceiling’

From the Morning Memo:

Carl Heastie of the Bronx is poised to become the next speaker of the state Assembly.

The 47-year-old county chairman, a taciturn and soft-spoken lawmaker, in an interview with NY1′s Zack Fink touted his ability to talk to people, even when they disagree.

“(I) try to have good relationships with anyone even if you disagree. And I’m sure the governor and I are going to disagree. But he and I have always had the ability to talk to each other and disagree,” he said.

He would have to put those skills to good use if he becomes the speaker of the Assembly, who is one of the “three men in a room” who negotiates the budget and major legislative priorities with the Senate majority leader and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Lawmakers in recent days have indicated they want a speaker who can be tough enough to do the table-poudning budget work with Cuomo, but also someone who can loosen the grip the speaker’s office has on legislation, committee assignments and, most importantly, information.

Heastie, who would become the first African-American speaker of the Assembly if elected, said such progress “shouldn’t stop with me.”

“My ability and position as county chair I’ve always been very supportive of women candidates and appointments and recommendations and things like that,” he said. “And I love being someone who breaks the glass ceiling.”

On a more personal side to the potential speaker-to-be, Heastie revealed his favorite food is lasagna and that his favorite movie is “Purple Rain.”

One thing that would likely have to change for Heist is talking to reporters. Indeed, the on-camera interview granted by Heastie is a rare one. Press shy, Heastie is known for rarely commenting on the record, instead preferring emails or texts.

As he was poised to build support for speaker, Heastie hired two media consultants who have experience with the Capitol press corps.

Heastie begrudgingly acknowledged that not speaking to reporters would have to change.

“I think I am going to have to unfortunately,” he said.

Heastie Solidifies Support For Speaker

From the Morning Memo:

The Carl Heastie for Assembly speaker train is leaving the station — all aboard.

That appears to be the sentiment this morning as the Bronx Democrat is closing in on the 76 votes needed to succeed the embattled Sheldon Silver as speaker.

Heastie won the backing of segments of vast segments of the five boroughs over the last several days, including Queens.

Joe Lentol of Brooklyn, the Assembly Codes committee chairman, dropped his bid when it became apparent he did not have the backing of his home borough.

Lentol, in a statement, backed Heastie for speaker, who would become the first African-Amercian lawmaker to rise to that post.

Lawmakers who signed on to a letter pushing reforms in the chamber also began signing up for Team Heastie, including Walter Mosley and Linda Rosenthal.

Then, the suburbanites moved in.

Westchester Assemblyman Tom Abinanti tweeted last night he would back Heasite for speaker.

“I support Carl Heastie for Speaker – he knows the demands of living in the costly, high-taxed NYC area & he will fight for the middle class,” Abinanti wrote on Twitter.

Heastie is believed to have the support of at least 10 suburban lawmakers.

Still in the race for speaker is Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, who becomes interim speaker when Silver vacates the office come Monday.

Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan is also still moving forward with her speaker bid.

Given Heastie’s rapidly building support, some lawmakers were quietly questioning on Thursday whether the fast-moving events could force a potential vote to fill the vacancy before Feb.10, when Morelle is due to give up the acting speakership.

Skelos Comes Under Scrutiny

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is the latest state lawmaker to reportedly come under scrutiny for his outside income.

The news that Skelos is being investigated by the U.S. attorney’s office adds another wrinkle and more than just a drop of uncertainty to a Capitol jolted by the arrest of embattled Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

The Long Island Republican last week did not weigh in on whether Silver should step down as speaker following his arrest on corruption charges.

“I think that the Assembly has to make that decision,” Skelos said. “He’s their leader, they’ll have to make that decision themselves.”

Skelos earned as much as $250,000 from his work as a counsel at Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, according to his financial disclosure form filed with ethics and lobbying regulators.

Skelos isn’t the only current or former lawmaker under the magnifying glass of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

But Skelos, as a legislative leader, negotiates the state budget and top-level issues legislation with the Assembly and governor.

The news that Skelos is under scrutiny could provide yet another shockwave through the halls of the Capitol that pretty much no one is safe from Bharara.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany with no public schedule.

At 10 a.m., ESDC Chairman Ken Adams delivers a regional version of Cuomo’s 2015 Opportunity Ageda, Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, Old Bermuda Inn, 2512 Arthur Kill Rd., Staten Island.

At 10:30 a.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio will tour the new Jobs Plus center at Brooklyn’s Van Dyke Houses, which provides training, job placement and financial counseling services, 330 Powell St., Brooklyn. (A press conference will follow).

Also at 10:30 a.m., Sen. David Carlucci will be joined by local and statewide organizations to support the “Raising the Age” initiative, which would allow 16 and 17 year old offenders to be treated as juveniles in the criminal-justice system, Sing Sing Correctional Facility, “18 Grounds” rear entrance, Spring Street, Ossining.

Also at 10 a.m., NYS Division of Veterans Affairs Director Eric Hesse will be delivering a version of the same speech at the Cazenovia Library, 100 Albany St., Cazenovia.

At 11 a.m., OGS Commissioner RoAnn Destito gives a regional version of the 2015 Opportunity Agenda, Herkimer College, McLaughlin College Center, 100 Resevoir Rd., Herkimer.

At 11:30 a.m., NYS Department of Civil Service Director Jerry Boone gives a version of Cuomo’s 2015 Opportunity Agenda, Hudson Valley Community College, Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Room 3, 80 Vandenburgh Ave., Troy.

At 12:30 p.m., Hesse delivers his second Opportunity Agenda speech of the day at the Onondaga County Workforce CNY Works Board Meeting, SUNY EOC Board Room, 100 New St., Syracuse.

At 1 p.m., NYS Office for the Aging Director Corinda Crossdale gives a regional version of the governor’s 2015 Opportunity Agenda speech, Dresser Rand Group, Inc., 500 Paul Clark Dr., Olean.

Also at 1 p.m., Rep. Lousie Slaughter will discuss the selection of the Rochester-led New York application as one of three finalists to compete for a federal Institute for Manufacturing Innovation devoted to photonics, KBK Federal Building, 100 State St., Rochester 14614, Basement Room 350

Also at 1 p.m., community and religious officials and other supporters of The Coalition to Protect Interfaith Medical Center hold a rally at the Kings County DA’s office; 350 Jay St., Brooklyn.

At 1:30 p.m., the Wage Board appointed by the State Labor Commissioner will meet, Classrooms D and E in Building 12 at the Harriman State Office Campus, Albany.

At 2 p.m., NYS Canal Corp. Director Brian Stratton gives a regional version of the 2015 Opportunity Agenda, Genesee County Community College, Conable Technology Building, Room T-102, 1 College Rd., Batavia.

Headlines…

Assemblyman Carl Heastie is “tantalizingly close to” – if not already past – the magic 76-vote threshold necessary to secure the speakership when his conference votes Feb. 10.

The deal to make Heastie the new speaker is “about done,” according to a source involved in the negotiations.

The fact that Heastie is on the verge of becoming one of the most powerful men in New York politics is “an astonishing feat for a guy most New Yorkers never heard of,” Juan Gonzalez says. Heastie isn’t ready to claim victory as he wants to “personally ask” each of his colleagues for his or her vote.

So far, Assemblymen Keith Wright and Joe Lentol have quit the speaker’s race and announced their support for Heastie. Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan remain contenders, though Nolan didn’t get the support of most of her own Queens delegation.

About Nolan: “there are few in public life who can, like her, reel off complete, properly punctuated sentences with dependent clauses at 60 miles per hour.”

Heastie’s rapid mobilization of Democratic lawmakers, mostly from New York City, left some lawmakers openly grumbling that the Bronx lawmaker and his supporters had not adhered to a process that Assembly Democrats publicly insisted, after outgoing Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s fall from power this week, would be more deliberative.

Heastie would be the first black speaker in history if he’s elected by his colleagues to succeed Silver. He told NY1′s Zack Fink that he “loves being a person who breaks the glass ceiling.”

The DN calls Heastie a “man with blemishes,” noting his name appeared in the files of the Moreland Commission for having failed to properly account for $25,000 in campaign spending. He also claimed almost $21,000 from the Assembly’s notoriously lax travel expense account during just the first six months of 2014 — more than any other member.

US Attorney Preet Bharara is reportedly investigating Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ outside business interests, with a particular focus on the Long Island Republican’s ties to the real estate industry.

A Skelos spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the report. A top Skelos aide said he was unaware of a probe into the majority leader. “I don’t know anything about it,” the aide said.

IBM plans to boost its research and development at the nanocenter in Albany by moving more than 220 engineers at the facility into a research division aimed at helping its $3 billion pledge to bolster its chip development mainly in New York.

The state Thruway Authority is conducting an internal review into the problems that hit the highway system during the November lake- effect storm, the new head of the agency, Bob Megna, said.

More >

Extras

Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan said she’s continuing with her speaker bid even though support is consolidating behind Assemblyman Carl Heastie.

A former Moreland Commission attorney has some questions for speaker candidate Heastie.

Heastie’s potential hurdles to locking up the speakership: The reformers and women.

Not surprisingly, Bronx Borough President (and former Assemblyman) Ruben Diaz Jr. is pushing for Heastie to become speaker.

The speaker candidates’ financial filings with JCOPE are not terribly revelatory.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is going in the opposite direction from much of the rest of the country when it comes to the reliance on test scores for teacher evaluations.

Tom Wrobleski wonders what’s preventing Cuomo from calling a special election to replace former Rep. Michael Grimm.

US Sens. Chuck Schumer and Richard Blumenthal demanded Metro-North investigate the derailment outside of Grand Central Terminal Wednesday night that led to delays.

A new study co-authored by a University of Kansas researcher finds men are indeed more to blame for political gridlock than women.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has set no dates for confirmation hearings for the governor’s two Court of Appeals nominees.

New Yorkers Against Gun Violence touted new CDC data that shows gun deaths in the state are down since Cuomo signed the SAFE Act into law.

Cuomo’s proposal to create an independent review of police-related deaths of civilians if an officer is cleared by a grand jury has hit opposition from the state troopers’ union.

Onondaga County Attorney Gordon Cuffy will be leaving his post to become the state Thruway Authority’s general counsel.

Tom Connellan, who retired as a Syracuse police sergeant on Jan. 15 to serve as district director of Rep. John Katko’s local office, will receive both his $62,000 pension and a $70,000 federal salary.

New York’s per pupil spending was 82 percent above the national average in 2012 – the highest among the 50 states and 82 percent above the national average, a federal report found.

New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet is replacing Mark Dunlea as executive director of the NYS Hunger Action Network.

Hillary Clinton, expecting no major challenge for the 2016 Democratic nomination, is strongly considering delaying the formal launch of her campaign until July - three months later than originally planned.

Secretary of State John Kerry got a ticket for failing to shovel his sidewalk in Boston.

Lentol Withdraws From Speaker’s Race, Backs Carl Heastie

Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol is withdrawing from the race for Assembly speaker and throwing his support behind Bronx lawmaker Carl Heastie, he announced in a statement Thursday afternoon.

The move comes as support in New York City’s political establishment appears to be coalescing around Heastie.

A source said Queens County is expected to back Heastie’s candidacy following Lentol’s withdrawing from the race.

The move by Queens Democrats today would hamper the bid by Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who would become the first woman elected speaker of the Assembly.

Lentol, the chairman of the Assembly codes committee, had up until only a few hours ago claimed to have the support from his home borough of Brooklyn.

That claim was swiftly undercut by Assemblyman Walter Mosley of Brooklyn announced his support for Heastie.

“I believe in the democratic process. I know our house will move forward in a positive way,” Lentol said in a statement. “I believe we will succeed in making the New York State Assembly stronger, more responsive and ultimately more accountable to all of us as members, which will then translate to better representation for the residents of the great State of New York.”

Also in the race for speaker is Majority Leader Joe Morelle, a Rochester-area Democrat who becomes interim speaker until Feb. 10, when a planned election is to be held to succeed embattled incumbent Sheldon Silver, who faces five counts of corruption charges.

Education Reform Group Pushes Back (Updated)

Students First NY, a group supportive of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform efforts, pushed back against Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’s statement this morning that called for an end to the “demonizing” of teachers.

In a statement, the group pointed out that in Yonkers, where Stewart-Cousins represents and lives, city school children are falling behind in math and reading.

“There’s a reason why the teachers’ union has spent $60 million in Albany over the past five years: to get politicians like Andrea Stewart-Cousins to put their interests over the hundreds of thousands of kids victimized by a failing system,” said the group’s Director of Organizing, Tenicka Boyd, in a statement. “In Yonkers, 4 out of 5 students cannot read or do math on grade level — they need a Senator, too. Governor Cuomo’s plan will give our best teachers $20,000 bonuses, will cover tuition to get the best and brightest into our classrooms, and will increase funding for all children. Governor Cuomo is fighting for kids; Senator Stewart-Cousins should too.”

Cumoo’s education policy proposals this year include raising the cap on charter schools by 100, increasing aid to those schools and seeking a more stringent teacher evaluation law along with a delay in granting teacher tenure.

The governor’s $142 billion budget proposal calls for a $1.1 billion increase in education spending, but much of that money is tied to enacting his policy measures.

Stewart-Cousins, along with the state’s teachers unions, have knocked these efforts as being critical of teachers.

Cuomo administration insists they are being anything but critical of teachers in the classroom.

“The Governor is fighting to reform a system that has condemned 250,000 children to failing schools over the last 10 years, while New York has lead the nation in education spending. Teaching is an important and admirable profession, and that’s why we’re seeking to reward the best ones with merit pay and offer a free college education to the best and brightest aspiring teachers. Frankly, the louder special interests scream, the more we know we’re right‎.”

Updated: Stewart-Cousins responded to the criticism in a statement.

“Personal attacks and political sniping will not solve the deep-rooted problems in New York’s public education system. As a person who went to New York City Public Schools, sent my children to New York Public Schools and taught in New York Public schools, I will continue to stand up for New York’s children and urge common sense reforms that will help all New York students receive the quality education they deserve.”