Lentol, In Letter To Reform Caucus, Backs Term Limits For Speaker

As he makes his bid for speaker, Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol indicated a willingness to support a package of reforms to the chamber, including term limits for both the speaker and committee chairs.

Lentol was responding to a letter signed by more than a dozen state lawmakers who are pushing a package of reforms ranging from transparency to a greater allocation of staff resources.

The “Reform Caucus” is mostly composed of recently elected state lawmakers who pushed for Sheldon Silver’s ouster as speaker this week.

At the heart of the effort is to devolve some power from the speaker’s post, which traditionally negotiates the budget with the governor and Senate majority leader in private “three men in a room” sessions and doles out leadership positions and other perks to members.

The speaker holds sway over the fate of legislation in the chamber through the chairmanship of the Rules Committee.

Lentol, in his letter, said he would support creating a reform task force, but cautioned that he would also want to remain strong enough to discuss the budget in leaders’ meetings.

“There are some reforms that can be done immediately; others must be done in a very deliberate fashion so that we retain the power of our institution,” Lentol wrote. “Reforms such as equitable allocation of resources and term limits for committee chairs and for the Speaker are ideas I consider important to pursue. Additionally, I am in full support of appointing a task force on reform. While reform is certainly something I support we also need to ensure our speaker has the ability to negotiate from a position of strength with the Governor and the Senate Majority Leader.”

Carl Heastie of the Bronx, Cathy Nolan of Queens and Joe Morelle of the Rochester area also vying for the speakership.

LENTOL Responds to Reform Caucus by Nick Reisman

Nolan: A Female Speaker Will Bring ‘Collaborative Style’

Queens Democrat Cathy Nolan in a radio interview on Thursday said electing a woman speaker of the state Assembly would bring a more “collaborative style” to the chamber’s leadership.

Nolan at this point is the only woman running for the spot, which will be vacated by Sheldon Silver on Monday.

“I’m equal to any man in the place,” Nolan said on The Capitol Pressroom.

Nolan also criticized the “all male” state Capitol press corps for enabling a culture of sexual harassment that also includes disgraced former Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

“Lots of things have contributed to that culture, including quite frankly the all-male Albany press corps,” Nolan told Susan Arbetter. “I can count on one hand how many women have been reporters since I’ve been in Albany. It’s you, Liz Benjamin and maybe that’s it.”

The press that covers Albany is predominantly male, but in recent years newspapers have added female bureau chiefs, including Sue Craig of The New York Times and Erica Orden of The Wall Street Journal.

Karen DeWitt covers the Capitol for public radio, Capital New York’s bureau has three women: Josefa Velasquez, Laura Nahmias and Jessica Bakeman.

City & State’s Capitol bureau includes Ashley Hupfl. The Daily Gazette sends reporter Haley Viccaro to cover the Capitol.

Alyssa Plock produces The Capitol Pressroom.

Teri Weaver covers state politics from Syracuse for The Post-Standard.

The five people Time Warner Cable News assigns to work on Capital Tonight include three women, including our senior producer, and of course, Liz.

Still, Albany — like any hothouse of political activity — is a testosterone-fueled environment, which women in both the press, lobbying, and in the Legislature have found stultifying.

“It’s still not an easy place for women in Albany,” Nolan said. “There’s certainly not enough support for women. I’ve managed to cut through that with the women in Albany.”

Nolan also defended women in the Assembly for not pushing back against Silver’s much-criticized efforts to keep quiet the sexual harassment allegations made against Lopez. Silver’s office approved more than $100,000 in settlement money to legislative staffers who accused Lopez of harassment and abuse. Lopez was allowed to hire new aides, whom subsequently would also accused the one-time Brooklyn power broker of harassment.

“The person who harassed the people was Assemblyman Lopez,” Nolan said. “He’s out of the chamber.”

Asked why she didn’t criticized Silver for the episode, Nolan demurred.

“You’ll have to ask him that question,” she said. “I do know the day Assemblyman Lopez left that chamber was the happiest day that I’ve had there.”

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.”

Reform Caucus Pressures Speaker Candidates

A group of 23 Assembly Democrats – most of them either freshmen or members with just a few years on the job – today sent a letter to the candidates seeking to replace Assemblyman Sheldon Silver as speaker, seeking their support for changes in the chamber that will increase the clout of the rank-and-file, change hiring and appointment practices and bring additional “transparency” to an organization that has long seen the consolidation of power in the hands of a single individual.

The letter, which was sent out shortly after noon, urges the speaker candidates to “commit to reforming and modernizing our institution” and also seeks their input on a host of reform proposals, touching on everything from the possibility of wirelss access in the Capitol (personal opinion: YES, YES!!) to potential term limits for the speaker and committee chairs.

The Assembly has long been a seniority-driven institution, ruled almost single-handedly by Silver, who made unilateral decisions about committee assignments and the hiring and firing of central staffers. The speaker infamously used committee and leadership posts – and the lulus thay carry, which has become increasingly important as the base pay of $79,500 has remained flat since 1999 – to reward or punish members.

“We recognize that implementation of many of these reforms will require extensive thought, discussion, and further detail,” the members wrote. “Therefore, we ask that the candidates for Speaker commit to appointing a task force on reform, representing the diversity of the conference.”

“This task force would develop specific proposals on these and other reforms. In addition, we ask that all meetings of the task force be open to all members of the conference. We believe that these reforms are the best way to restore faith in our ability to serve the public.”

“Any change in leadership must be accompanied by substantial reform in the way the State Assembly functions. Now is the time to move forward to build a better, stronger Assembly.”

One of the reform caucus members, Bronx Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda, was among the first Democrats to publicly call for Silver to resign his leadership post in the wake of his arrest last week on federal corruption charges, rejecting the speaker’s effort to retain his title and allocate the bulk of his leadership responsibilities to a five-member team of senior members.

Sepulveda told the Wall Street Journal that he and his fellow reform caucus members would be drafting a list of policy demands, and would not be committing their support to anyone who did not agree to them.

This letter doesn’t go quite that far, but it does lay down a marker of sorts for the next speaker. So far, all the candidates for the job – Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie, Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol and Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan – have all pledged to change the way the chamber operations, though they have not made any specific promises.

UPDATE: The demands of this reform caucus aren’t sitting well with at least one member of the Democratic conference. Assemblyman Mike DenDekker, of Queens, sent me an email earlier today after seeing Sepulveda’s comments in the WSJ, saying that the majority of members – not a small group – will ultimately determine what’s best for the body moving forward.

“I would remind Assemblyman Sepulveda two things,” DenDekker wrote. “One: This is a democracy. The majority of the members will institute reform…Two: most members have spent more time in conference working as a team than he has been in elected office. Hence, if he or any member has suggestions they should bring them to the entire conference not try to hotdog in the media.”

23 members of Assembly “reform caucus” letter to speaker candidates by liz_benjamin6490

Lawmakers Push Megna On TZB Financing Plan

State lawmakers at a budget hearing on Thursday pushed acting Thruway Authority Executive Director Bob Megna on releasing a full financing plan for the massive Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project.

The Cuomo administration estimates the bridge, which will cross the Hudson River and connect Westchester and Rockland counties, will cost $3.9 billion.

Megna, a former budget chief for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, reiterated a common refrain from the administration: The project does have a payment plan, but it is constantly shifting due to new and existing resources.

“We are going to have to provide a financial plan for the Thruway Authority and for the bridge and we do that on an going basis,” he said, adding, “We don’t want to get too specific about a tolling plan until we know all the possible financing sources — the federal piece, the EFC piece that I think we all know about and then the settlement funds which kind of thankfully was mana from heavan which a piece of that can be invested in this very important infrastructure project.”

But it remains unclear how the state will ultimately pay for the project in the long run, though a mix of federal loans and grants, along with state financing and windfall settlement money has been mentioned.

“It would be a perfect time that at this point we’re going to say how we’re going to finance it,” Senate Financing Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco told Megna during the hearing. “Things change, obviously in any project.”

Cuomo this month unveiled a $142 billion budget plan that includes sending $1.3 billion of the state’s $5.4 billion windfall surplus from financial settlements to the Thruway Authority, which is charged with building the new bridge.

It is not clear how much money will be allocated for the bridge project specifically. Megna today said that the “vast majority” of the money going to the authority will pay for the bridge project, while the remaining money will keep tolls flat across the Thruway system wide.

“We believe we can keep tolls constant in 2015,” Megna told reporters after testifying.

The Thruway Authority’s finances are in question this year as the agency faces a $25 million shortfall in its budget.

Megna, who assumed the leadership of the authority this month following the resignation of Tom Madison at the end of 2014, acknowledged the challenge of getting its budget in order.

“It’s a big challenge, I think. It’s a great organization, a great place but I think we have some challenges to get our expenses down and our capital in place,” Megna said.

Megna was skeptical, meanwhile, whether the savings of consolidating the Bridge Authority with the thruway system would result in a significant savings.

“I’m sure folks at budget and we at Thruway and Bridge authority are looking at doing that,” Megna said of the merger. “There’s no immediate plans to do that. You only take on these kinds of combinations if they make sense — if you’re actually going to save money. You don’t do it just do it.”

Stewart-Cousins Fires Shot Across Cuomo’s Bow On Education

In a rare public break with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins blasted the “demonizing of our teachers” in a statement released on Thursday morning.

Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, called for increasing resources — aka more money — in the state budget for school districts and not “scapegoating teachers.”

“There has been too much demonizing of our teachers lately. As a former teacher, I understand firsthand the obstacles that many New York educators are facing and the resources they so desperately need in order to help our children,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Schools’ resources must be based on the school district needs. While we all agree that there are more improvements to be made to our education system, scapegoating teachers will not provide those improvements.”

The comment comes as Cuomo seeks to create a more stringent teacher evaluation system statewide, a delay in teacher tenure and a strengthening of charter schools through increased per pupil tuition spending.

The governor backs a plan that would provide tax credits to those who make donations to public and private schools — a move that is opposed by the state’s teachers union.

Cuomo’s budget calls for bonuses for teachers tied to good performance reviews.

The governor is proposed a $1.1 billion funding increase in education spending in his $142 billion budget, but much of that money is tied to adopting his measures.

Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, is knocking Cuomo’s education reform push as Speaker Sheldon Silver is being pushed out of the Assembly’s leadership post on Monday.

Uncertainty over the future of the Assembly’s leadership push is leading to concerns among education advocates that the governor’s proposals won’t have a strong opponent in the budget negotiations.

The fight over education policy this legislative session is really an extension of the election year, when Democrats were backed by the statewide New York State United Teachers union and Senate Republicans were supported by wealthy proponents of charter schools.

Morelle Says He’s A Candidate For Speaker

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle is letting his colleagues he’s interested in replacing Sheldon Silver as speaker on a long-term basis, the Rochester-area Democrat said on Capital Tonight.

In an interview on Wednesday night, Morelle acknowledged that being a white male from upstate New York will make his bid potentially more difficult as speaker candidates include a woman, Cathy Nolan of Queens, and potentially the first black speaker, Carl Heastie of the Bronx.

“I get that it’s been 40 years this has happened,” Morelle said, referring to the last upstate speaker. “I probably have a higher burden, I probably have to certainly demonstrate more than any other candidate from the city that I’m prepared to serve and earn their vote, but I’m prepared to do that.”

Still, it’s likely the next speaker for the long-term will be from one of the five boroughs, given the chambers domination of New York City members in the 106-member conference.

“I can’t help where my father and mother decided to settle,” Morelle said. “That’s where I was born. That’s nothing I can do anything about. Things I can do something about is that I’m a hard work, I’m diligent, that I work with colleagues, that I try to be fair and I have leadership qualities.”

Morelle is well-liked by his colleagues and holds socially liberal views on same-sex marriage, abortion rights and the death penalty.

He was the lawmaker who also had to go to Silver directly to and tell the embattled he had lost the confidence in the Democratic conference.

But Morelle is also considered close with the business community and he makes no apologies for being fiscally moderate.

Also problematic for Morelle are his ties to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the business community. Morelle endorsed Cuomo’s ill-fated Cuomo for governor in 2002 and is considered a key ally for the governor in the Legislature.

Morelle said that his friendship with the governor — who is not held in high esteem by some New York City rank-and-file lawmakers for a variety of reasons — could be a plus in budget talks.

“I have no difficulty disagreeing with the governor. He has vetoed some of my bills,” Morelle said. “I will tell you that that relationship does allow me to say things he doesn’t want to hear. Maybe he’d be more willing to listen because of that relationship.”

Morelle is due to become acting speaker on Monday when Silver leaves the office. He serves in that capacity until Feb. 10, when an election for a permanent replacement is held.

Silver, For Now, Still Speaker

From the Morning Memo:

What’s Shelly waiting for?

That was the question on the minds of operatives and lawmakers as the embattled speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, has yet to step down from the post.

Silver lost the confidence of his colleagues this week after being arrested seven days ago on corruption charges.

Silver, one way or the other, will no longer be speaker come Feb. 10.

But the Manhattan Democrat has not said definitively how that will occur, either through a voluntary resignation or in the form of a forced — and publicly embarrassing ouster.

Majority Leader Joe Morelle — who stands to become interim speaker by Monday — was not sure why Silver is yet to step aside.

He’s going to have to describe or make a decision on how that happens.

“There’s going to be a vacancy on Monday — that I know with certainty,” Morelle said. “I certainly have every confidence there will be a change in leadership.”

Heastie Seeks To Solidify Downstate Support

From the Morning Memo:

Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie — considered by political observers to have the inside track for Assembly speaker — is trying to lock up support of the various New York City factions.

Last night, he gained the endorsement of Manhattan Assemblyman Keith Wright, who dropped his bid for speaker, possibly in order to run for Rep. Charlie Rangel’s congressional seat.

Now, sources say Queens Democrats will meet on Thursday at midday to discuss who will succeed Sheldon Silver in the speaker’s chair.

An additional source says Nassau County Democratic lawmakers — at least five of them — will be backing Heastie for speaker.

That leaves Brooklyn, where Democrats appear to be poised to make an announcement on their choice for speaker, which appears to be Heasite.

Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol — an ally of Silver — announced in a letter to colleagues on Wednesday he’s running for speaker.

Last night, Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan gave no indication she’s getting out of the race for speaker.

“A new Speaker of the New York State Assembly must serve all regions of our state. My colleagues from all over the state have helped New York City many times over my 30 year career. To become a true leader of the New York State Assembly, you must have 76 Democratic Majority votes,” she said. “I intend to seek them.”

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule.

At 8:15 a.m., Rep. Chris Gibson will be the keynote speaker at the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce Breakfast, Garden Plaza Hotel, Washington Avenue, Kingston.

At 8:30 a.m., Howard Zemsky, the governor’s nominee to head ESDC, delivers a regional version of Cuomo’s 2015 Opportunity Agenda, Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center, Governor’s Room, 101 Old Falls St., Niagara Falls.

At 8:45 a.m., New York State Bar Association members and officials are attending the association’s 138th annual meeting, scheduled to continue through Saturday, Jan. 31; newsroom located in Rhinelander Gallery North, second floor, New York Hilton Midtown hotel, 1335 Sixth Ave., Manhattan.

At 9 a.m., a march and rally are held to call for the public release of minutes from proceedings of a grand jury that decided not to indict an NYPD officer in connection with Eric Garner’s chokehold death, start at Staten Island Ferry’s St. George Terminal, 1 Bay St., Staten Island, march to the Staten Island Criminal Courthouse, 67 Targee St.

Also at 9 a.m., before a 10 a.m. oversight hearing where members of City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings will receive testimony about proposals to change or end the state’s 421-a real estate tax abatement program, critics of the program call for state officials to end the program, City Hall steps, Manhattan.

At 9:30 a.m., the joint legislative budget hearing on the transportation portion of Cuomo’s 2015-16 executive budget proposal is held, Hearing Room B, LOB, Albany.

At 10 a.m., former NYC Mayor David Dinkins reads to children and speaks to children about his time as mayor while visiting the Archdiocese of New York’s St. Charles Borromeo School; 214 W. 142nd St., Manhattan.

At 10:30 a.m., LG Kathy Hocul tours Northern Eagle Beverages, 7 Railroad Ave., Oneonta.

At 11 a.m., Deputy Secretary of State for Local Government Dede Scozzafava delivers a regional version of the 2015 Opportunity Agenda, Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority, Board Room, 1 Bridge Plaza, Ogdensburg.

Also at 11 a.m., LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Richard O’Kane, President of Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk open the LIRR’s Mid Suffolk Yard information center, Ronkonkoma Station near the LIRR ticket office, Long Island.

At 11:30 a.m., Director, NYS Division of Veterans Affairs Eric Hesse delivers a regional version of the 2015 Opportunity Agenda, Schenectady County Community College, Elston Hall, Van Curler Room, 78 Washington Ave., Schenectady.

Also at 11:30 a.m., during a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bronx BP Ruben Diaz Jr., state Sens. Ruth Hassell-Thompson and Gustavo Rivera, NYC Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte and others mark the transfer of the state’s former Fulton Correctional Facility to an organization that assists former inmates, The Osborne Association; 1511 Fulton Ave., the Bronx.

At 12:30 p.m., OGS Commissioner RoAnn Destito delivers a regional version of the 2015 Opportunity Agenda, John J. Hazlett Building, 203 Lake St., Elmira.

At 1 p.m., Hochul attends the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council meeting, SUNY Oneonta, Morris Complex – Craven Lounge, 1 Ravine Pkwy., Oneonta.

At 1:30 p. m., Zemsky delivers a second speech, Seneca Falls Community Center, 35 Water St., Seneca Falls.

At 2 p.m., state Office for the Aging Director Corinda Crossdale delivers a regional version of Cuomo’s 2015 Opportunity Agenda, Jamestown Community College, Weeks Room, Arts and Sciences Center, 525 Falconer St., Jamestown.

Also at 2 p.m., ESDC Regional Director Sam Hoyt delivers a regional version of the 2015 Opportunity Agenda, Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center, Governor’s Room, 101 Old Falls St., Niagara Falls.

At 3:30 p.m., UFT President Michael Mulgrew will release a report containing a district-by-district, school-by-school analysis demonstrating how charter schools fail to admit and retain the highest-need students, compared to the public schools in their neighborhoods; the union will call for a freeze on the charter cap, 52 Broadway, 12th floor, Manhattan.

At 6:10 p.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers remarks at the at Mobility Ventures’ showcase of the first-ever purpose-built wheelchair accessible vehicle, the MV-1, Manhattan Classic Car Club, 250 Hudson St., Manhattan.

At 6:30 p.m., Rep. Hakeem Jeffries delivers a “State of the District” address; Arnold and Marie Schwartz Athletic Center, Long Island University’s LIU Brooklyn campus, One University Plaza, Brooklyn.

Also at 6:30 p.m., the Bronx Democratic Party, headed by Assemblyman and speaker candidate Carl Heastie, holds a winter reception fundraiser, Michaelangelo’s, 2477 Arthur Ave., the Bronx.

Headlines…

Assemblyman Carl Heastie’s chances of succeeding embattled Speaker Sheldon Silver got a boost on when a key rival – Assemblyman Keith Wright – dropped out and backed the Bronx Democrat’s bid. Heastie’s team called Wright’s endorsement a “game changer.”

Heastie, who would be the first black speaker in Assembly history, has promised reforms if he’s elected. He also revealed his favorite term when it comes to the press: “No comment.”

Calls, meetings, texts, promises and head fakes were the rage as the competitors for Silver’s speakership raced to put together a coalition ahead of their competition.

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle Morelle, who is trying to defy history by becoming the first upstate speaker in decades, is in New York City to meet with colleagues over the next several days and will continue to press his case for the job across the state. He said he should not be discounted by New York City leaders because he’s from upstate.

Bronx Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda said he and more than a dozen other members are drafting a list of policy demands they want the next speaker to abide by. Among them are term limits on the speaker job and on committee chairmanships. Until the candidates respond, the group isn’t committing their votes.

Interviews with more than a dozen legislators indicate that it was an idealistic new wave of Assembly members who helped galvanize opposition to Silver, prodded a loyal old guard and cleared the way for an election of a new speaker and, they hoped, a new start.

History will record Silver as having ruled his 105-person conference with an iron fist, quashing coup attempts and marginalizing potential enemies. But his ability to remain in power for two decades, until he was forced to step down this week, stemmed as much from his careful consideration of the conference’s needs as from his occasional ruthlessness.”

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