Assembly Reformers Unveil Priorities Ahead of Vote to Replace Sheldon Silver

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. (Photo: Getty Images)

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. (Photo: Getty Images)

A coalition of reform Assembly Democrats unveiled their membership and priorities ahead of a February 10 vote to determine the next speaker of the Assembly.

Led by Manhattan Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, the 23-member caucus asked in an open letter today that the speaker replacing Sheldon Silver, who was arrested on corruption charges a week ago, consider a series of questions related to how the body is governed and requested that the next speaker establish a task force to address reform.

This is the first time the entire reform caucus, as they are known, revealed their full membership.

“After careful consideration, we have determined that reform can provide greater transparency, increased Member participation, changes in leadership selection, reform in staffing decisions and staff authority,” the Assembly members wrote.

“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,” they added.

The letter, asking all members of the Assembly’s Democratic Conference to sign on, did not explicitly lay out the reforms sources say the caucus really wants–term-limits on speakers and committee chairs–but instead asked a wide array of questions that hinted at their motives.

“Should the Assembly be more transparent? For example, should Members know how decisions are made inside of conference?” the caucus members asked. “What role should Members play in making decisions regarding committee assignments, agendas, and staff allocations? Can technology increase transparency? Should we expend Assembly resources to update technology?”

The reformers are not currently aligned with any of the four candidates seeking the speakership, but they are said to be wary of Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie, a front-runner for the post. Mr. Heastie is up against Queens Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Brooklyn Assemblyman Joseph Lentol and Rochester Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, the majority leader and soon-to-be acting speaker.

Their caucus crosses geographical and racial boundaries, roping in Democrats from the city, suburbs and upstate. Their members are: Didi Barrett, Michael Blake, David Buchwald, Anthony Brindisi, Maritza Davila, Patricia Fahy, Phil Goldfeder, Todd Kaminsky, Brian Kavanagh, Donna Lupardo, Shelley Mayer, John McDonald, Walter Mosley, Steven Otis, Robert Rodriguez, Linda Rosenthal, Nily Rozic, Sean Ryan, Luis Sepulveda, Phil Steck, Al Stripe, Dan Quart and Carrie Woerner.

View the full letter below:

Dear Candidate for New York State Assembly Speaker:

Although this is a difficult time for the Assembly, we believe that it does provide a unique opportunity to reflect and consider how we as a body wish to move forward to provide a better internal process for ourselves and better government for our constituents.

After careful consideration, we have determined that reform can provide greater transparency, increased Member participation, changes in leadership selection, reform in staffing decisions and staff authority. We urge the Speaker Candidates to commit to reforming and modernizing our institution, and we seek your input on the following reform ideas.

Transparency

Should the Assembly be more transparent? For example, should Members know how decisions are made inside of conference? What role should Members play in making decisions regarding committee assignments, agendas, and staff allocations?

Can technology increase transparency? Should we expend Assembly resources to update technology? What are ways to improve technology, ie., providing wireless access in the Capitol, updating software to communicate with constituents through email and social media? Should the public have access to the Legislative Retrieval System?
Should staff allocation information be distributed openly?

Participation

How much input should Members have in conference decision-making?
Should Members have a voice in leadership appointments?
Should the Majority Conference Leader be appointed or elected?
How can members have a greater opportunity to weigh in on policy and budget decisions before legislative negotiations?

How can we encourage a real and robust debate in committee meetings and on the floor?

Should Members have the ability to get bills voted on in committee and on the floor if there is broad support among colleagues?
Leadership Reform and Staffing

Should the amount of time in the positions of Speaker and Committee Chairs be limited in any way? Should factors aside from seniority be considered in allocating Leadership positions and committee/sub- committee chairs? How should Committee and Central staff be hired, and should the Speaker continue to have the sole discretion to hire the staff, direct the staff, and terminate staff? Should Members have an equal staff budget? If not, how should staffing levels be determined in order to provide high-quality constituent services, and support legislative and policy work?

We recognize that implementation of many of these reforms will require extensive thought, discussion, and further detail. 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.

This letter is sent to each member of the Assembly’s Democratic Conference, and each is encouraged to sign on. We understand that reform in the Assembly has been a sought after goal for many years. We look forward to hearing your views on these very important issues.

Sincerely,

Didi Barrett, Michael Blake, David Buchwald, Anthony Brindisi, Martiza Davilla [sic], Patricia Fahy, Phil Goldfeder, Todd Kaminsky, Brian Kavanaugh [sic], Donna Lupardo, Shelley Mayer, John McDonald, Walter Mosley, Steven Otis, Robert Rodriguez, Linda Rosenthal, Nily Rozic, Sean Ryan, Luis Sepulveda, Phil Steck, Al Stripe, Dan Quart, Carrie Woerner.

 

Assembly Reformers Unveil Priorities Ahead of Vote to Replace Sheldon Silver