Lentol Laments Assembly ‘Culture’ That Made Him Drop Speaker Bid

Brooklyn Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (Photo: Facebook).

Brooklyn Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (Photo: Facebook).

Brooklyn Assemblyman Joseph Lentol blasted the “culture” of the Assembly and the influence of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the borough Democratic bosses that he alleged forced him to abandon his bid to replace Speaker Sheldon Silver yesterday and endorse front-runner Carl Heastie of the Bronx.

Mr. Lentol attacked the tendency of his peers to jump on the bandwagon of a candidate whose victory seemed inevitable, out of fear of being left out of the new power structure. He also criticized the influence of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the county leaders, none of whom lined up behind his bid despite his seniority in the body.

“I was a victim of that culture, because I didn’t have the support of the governor or the mayor of the City of New York or a county leader,” the 72-year-old legislator said on the Capitol Pressroom radio show. “The election of the speaker has nothing to do with who the best candidate is.”

Mr. Lentol’s home county Democratic organization backed Mr. Heastie, allegedly under pressure from Mayor Bill de Blasio—who, sources told the Observer, also had staffers phoning Assembly members to encourage them to back the Bronx lawmaker. Mr. de Blasio denied attempting to interfere in the race.

He was also light on praise for Mr. Heastie when host Susan Arbetter asked him about the Moreland Commission’s investigation of Mr. Heastie’s unitemized campaign expenditures and reports that he paid his girlfriend out of his campaign coffers to create a website she never built.

“Maybe it’s time for us to do something about the election law that allows such a liberal view of what we can spend money on,” he said. “I thought I was the clean candidate, but that didn’t seem to matter.”

Mr. Lentol added, however, that he doubted Mr. Heastie had done anything criminal.

The Brooklyn legislator, first elected in 1972, said he was unsurprised that Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle of Rochester has stopped jockeying for the body’s top spot, and predicted Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan of Queens would soon do the same.

“Cathy is a formidable candidate in the race and I respect her tremendously, but I think she’s going to be victim of the same kind of thought process I went through and Morelle,” he said. “That’s what happens in politics and this situation, unfortunately.”

Mr. Lentol reiterated his support for the 23-member reform coalition‘s calls for changes to the Assembly’s power structure, including decentralizing authority away from the speaker, distributing office resources equally among all members and creating term limits for positions of authority.

“I thought I had a lot to offer to change that culture. Because I would have been a speaker that shared power with the members,” he said, adding that the issue of term limits had some personal importance for him. “That way we’ll have opportunities for new members to step up, and not have people wait their entire careers like I did to become speaker. I was subject to the fact, the lack of that reform.”

Mr. Lentol went on to say he was “disappointed, but not sad,” and quoted country singer Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.”

“You got to know when to hold em and know when to fold em, when to walk away and when to run,” he said.