Keith Wright Drops Bid to Replace Sheldon Silver, Backs Carl Heastie

Assemblyman Keith Wright at a rally. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

Assemblyman Keith Wright at a rally. (Photo: Ross Barkan) Ross Barkan/Observer

Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright tonight announced he was dropping his bid to succeed Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and endorsing Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie for the powerful position.

Mr. Wright, who heads the New York County Democratic Party, said he was grateful to those of his fellow legislators who had agreed to support him in the February 10 vote for Mr. Silver’s successor. He praised Mr. Heastie as exceptionally qualified for the leadership position, which—along with the governor and State Senate majority leader—makes up the “three men in a room” power arrangement that steers the state.

“After thoughtful consideration, I have decided not to run for this office and instead to give my full endorsement to my friend and colleague, Assemblyman Carl Heastie, who I believe will lead our chamber back to the task of addressing the important and pressing needs of the citizens of this state,” Mr. Wright said in a statement. “Throughout my time of service in this Assembly, I have come to know Carl as an exceptionally effective legislator. He leads by building consensus, listening to good ideas and serving all New Yorkers.”

Mr. Wright called for reforms to the working of the Assembly, which Mr. Silver ran under tight control. The lawmaker said he believed Mr. Heastie was exceptionally well qualified to bring about the needed changes.

“As our chamber’s next Speaker, Carl Heastie will re-energize our institution by ushering in the bold reforms we need to make our role in government more transparent and more accountable to the voters,” he said. “Today, in this moment of crisis, we have a tremendous opportunity to make our Assembly more vital and inclusive for all of its members. I am committed to working with Carl and with all my colleagues from across New York to restore the voters trust in this institution and to ensure that the people’s work is done.”

Mr. Wright was among the first top Democrats to call for Mr. Silver to resign after his arrest last week on corruption charges. Sources told the Observer the long-serving legislator had at first attempted to present himself as a compromise candidate between those averse to handing the reins to Mr. Heastie or Democratic Majority Leader—and interim speaker—Joseph Morelle of Rochester, who is also believed to be interested in helming the body.

However, Manhattan’s Democratic Party is relatively weak and the borough’s Assembly delegation divided, and Mr. Wright appeared to be having difficulty garnering support in other sections of the city.

Besides the Bronx, Assembly insiders say Mr. Heastie has the backing of the Kings County Democratic Party and of Mayor Bill de Blasio—though both have denied backing any one of the contenders, outside of saying the speaker should be from New York City. The sources said many in Brooklyn are loyal to Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, who hails from the borough, and who is also seeking Mr. Silver’s old perch.

Many in the Queens County Democratic Party are lining up behind their borough’s contender, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan. However, Mr. Heastie has long had a good working relationship with Congressman Joseph Crowley, the Queens County Democratic boss.

Mr. Wright and Mr. Heastie have a complex history. Mr. Wright is close to Congressman Charles Rangel, while Mr. Heastie backed State Senator Adriano Espaillat in his primary challenge to the U.S. representative last year.

Mr. Wright has formed an exploratory committee as a precursor to possibly seeking the retiring Mr. Rangel’s seat in 2016—which reportedly left many of his Assembly colleagues reluctant to support him for speaker, since they do not wish to go through a succession process again in two years.

Mr. Silver is expected to vacate his position on Monday.

Keith Wright Drops Bid to Replace Sheldon Silver, Backs Carl Heastie