Carl Heastie’s Hurdles to Replacing Sheldon Silver: Reformers and Women

With Keith Wright's decision to drop out, Carl Heastie is a front-runner to become the next Assembly speaker--but roadblocks remain.

Assemblyman Carl Heastie. (Photo: Facebook)
Assemblyman Carl Heastie. (Photo: Facebook)

Assemblyman Keith Wright’s decision to drop out of the race to replace Sheldon Silver gave his longtime rival, Carl Heastie, a tremendous boost today–and set him up on a potential collision course with lawmakers in the nascent “reform” caucus, as well as some female Democrats.

Mr. Heastie is closing in on the 76 votes needed to be elected speaker of the State Assembly, but roadblocks still remain for the Democrat. A loose group of reformers led by Manhattan Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh are balking at throwing their support behind Mr. Heastie, the chair of the Bronx Democratic Party, and women lawmakers in the city and suburbs are still attracted to the candidacy of Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, a Queens Democrat and the only woman in the race.

In a statement today, Mr. Heastie promised he would “increase accountability and transparency” in state government. But the Kavanagh group is wary of Mr. Heastie, a county leader cozy with the real estate industry and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and isn’t yet convinced that he will be a significant departure from Mr. Silver, the iron-fisted speaker who lasted two decades until his arrest on corruption charges a week ago.

“The reform caucus doesn’t want Carl,” a source close to the negotiations said. “They’re not sure they trust him.”

The reformers number close to 20 in the 150-member body; an exact count isn’t known and Mr. Kavanagh, as well as Mr. Heastie, declined to comment. What could complicate Mr. Heastie’s path to victory is that a couple of members of the group hail from the Bronx: Assemblymen Michael Blake and Luis Sepulveda are currently aligned with the reformers, sources say.

The group, somewhat similar in ideology and ambition to the New York City Council’s Progressive Caucus, is seeking to impose term-limits on the speaker and committee chairpersons. In Mr. Silver’s Assembly, power has been consolidated with the most senior members, frustrating many of the more recently-elected lawmakers.

These reformers, along with women motivated to make history with Ms. Nolan, could form a bloc to counter Mr. Heastie’s growing group of support. Rockland County’s Ellen Jaffe, Albany’s Patricia Fahy and Westchester County’s Amy Paulin are among the lawmakers leaning toward backing Ms. Nolan, the chair of the education committee and a favorite of some downstate progressives and labor unions. (Other reformers include Phillip Goldfeder of Queens, Walter Mosley of Brooklyn, Sean Ryan of Buffalo and David Buchwald of Westchester County.)

With Mr. Wright gone, most of the Assembly’s 28-strong Black, Latino and Asian Caucus can consolidate around Mr. Heastie, an African-American. If Congressman Joseph Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party chariman, decides to align with Mr. Heastie, the race may very well be over. But Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, set to become the acting speaker next week, is also competing for reformers and could look to scoop up the Assembly’s 44 Republicans. Another candidate, Brooklyn’s Joseph Lentol, is taken less seriously.

The situation, combatants on all sides admit, is very fluid.

“I don’t count Joe Morelle out. Uphill, but not out,” one Albany watcher said. “There’s a lot of time before February 10.”

Carl Heastie’s Hurdles to Replacing Sheldon Silver: Reformers and Women