Silver resigns as speaker and, in a hasty process, Heastie takes the reins | East Villager & Lower East Sider

Silver resigns as speaker and, in a hasty process, Heastie takes the reins

Carl Heastie was elected the state Assembly’s new speaker on Tuesday, replacing Sheldon Silver, who was forced to resign on Monday due to federal charges that he engineered $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks for himself.

Carl Heastie was elected the state Assembly’s new speaker on Tuesday, replacing Sheldon Silver, who was forced to resign on Monday due to federal charges that he engineered $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks for himself.

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON |  Sheldon Silver is out as speaker of the New York State Assembly, and Carl Heastie is in.

Silver’s 21-year reign as one of the state’s top Democrats — one of the “three men in a room” cutting deals with the governor — came to a crashing end Monday, as his resignation became official at 11:59 p.m.

Tuesday, the assemblymembers unanimously voted in Heastie to take Silver’s place.

The beginning of the end for the powerful Lower East Side politician came early on the morning on Thurs., Jan. 22, when he turned himself in at F.B.I. headquarters, at 26 Federal Plaza, facing five federal charges of corruption, extortion and fraud. Each charge carries a 20-year maximum sentence. Silver, 70, was then handcuffed behind his back and driven the short distance to Federal Court, where he was arraigned of his charges and released on $200,000 bond.

“I hope I’ll be vindicated,” Silver tersely told reporters after leaving court.

According to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Silver’s alleged crimes stretched back a decade and involved two schemes, netting him a total of nearly $4 million. In one scam, Silver allegedly secretly funneled state funds to a Columbia University doctor, who then referred asbestos cancer patients to Silver’s Noho-based law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, with Silver reaping $3.2 million in “referral fees” from the firm. In the other case, Silver is accused of directing real estate developers with business before the state to a small Lower Manhattan real estate firm — run by his former Assembly legal counsel — which, in a quid pro quo, then paid him $700,000. None of this income was reported on Silver’s required disclosure forms, according to the federal complaint.

The charges grew out of the work of the Moreland Commission, the anticorruption panel created to probe the state Legislature by Governor Andrew Cuomo, which he abruptly shut down last year.

Silver at first desperately tried to hang on to his speakership, saying he would temporarily cede some responsibilities to a group of five assemblymembers, but the idea tanked, and fellow legislators soon moved to force Silver to step down.

Legislators’ support quickly coalesced around Heastie (pronounced “HAY-stee”) — but at least one local legislator expressed concern about the, well, hasty process.

As the initial field of five candidates had rapidly shrunk to two last Friday, Assemblymember Deborah Glick took to Twitter to air her views.

Hours later, ratcheting up the race’s intensity and the sense that it could soon be over, news came that Silver had turned in his resignation papers.

Around 11 a.m. Friday, Glick tweeted, “Morelle out of speaker race — Nolan still in —am I having a flashback to an earlier presidential primary? 1 thing clear — won’t be a white guy.”

Glick was referring to Joseph Morelle of Rochester dropping out of the running on Friday, leaving just Cathy Nolan of Queens and Heastie of the Bronx remaining.

As for the “flashback,” she was referring to the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, when she supported Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. Glick had told The Villager back then that she was excited to back Clinton, a highly qualified woman, since Glick felt that for too much of her life she had “voted for mediocre men” for elected office.

Like Clinton, Nolan is a woman, and like Obama, Heastie is African-American. And just as with Obama and Clinton and the presidency at that time, a woman or a black man leading the Assembly would be a historic first.

And, as Obama did in ’08, Heastie has won the election.

In addition, Glick, who represents the Lower West Side, felt that it was important to have a strongly pro-choice speaker, as seen in her tweet at 12:21 p.m. on Friday: “It would be good for the next speaker to come from the bi-partisan pro-choice caucus.”

As Glick explained to The Villager, many members of the Assembly — including Nolan — are on the Pro-Choice Caucus, yet Heastie is not among them.

“Which is not to say that Heastie hasn’t taken pro-choice votes,” Glick added.

“We hope that there will be a discussion of codifying Roe v. Wade,” she explained. “New York eliminated its prohibition on abortion in 1970. Roe v. Wade was passed in 1973. Certain federal protections are not written into New York law. So if a conservative Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, there would be gaps in New York’s law — which we would try to avoid. If Roe v. Wade were struck down, it means all that we’d have to cover New York would be the state law from 1970.”

Heastie also reportedly voted against allowing gay marriage when it first came up in the Assembly in 2007, and failed to support it in votes in succeeding years, but finally did support gay marriage the year it was legalized in New York, in 2011.

Glick admitted that Nolan was “totally a long shot.”

What really had Glick ticked off, though, was the fact that Heastie’s support was being built the old-school way, when what had been promised was that the candidates would make presentations to the full Assembly before the vote.

“The old-fashioned way is people are on the phone — and county party chairs, etc., weigh in,” she explained. And all of this, according to Glick, is exactly what went on, as opposed to a promised open process.

Although the date had been given as Feb. 10 by which the Assembly would elect a new speaker, Glick last Friday had predicted that the choice, in fact, could happen by Monday or Tuesday.

Despite what could be gleaned from her tweets, as of last Friday, Glick said she wasn’t supporting any candidate yet. That said, she did make her preference known to The Villager.

“Carl is a decent guy,” she said. “I just think that Cathy has a much longer record of dealing with significant issues. She’s chairperson of the Education Committee. Education is always a very large part of the budget discussions, and so she has been involved in that.”

Also, Nolan has served twice as long in the Assembly, 30 years to Heastie’s15.

Heastie has been described, in many ways, as virtually a Silver clone in terms of his political style, demeanor and voting record. At the same time, Nolan was one of the “Gang of Five” who Silver had wanted to take over some of the speaker’s responsibilities on a temporary basis.

However, conceding defeat, Nolan dropped out of the race on Monday, albeit saying, in a statement, that the Assembly really would have benefited from a longer process.

As for Silver, Glick said she spoke to him the night that the assemblymembers concluded there was no option but for him to step down.

As reported in last week’s issue of The Villager, she had initially expressed support for Silver after the news first broke of the serious charges against him. Silver, she had stressed then — seemingly reflexively — was “innocent until proven guilty.”

Longtime members of the Assembly, many of whom considered Silver a friend, took his downfall harder, she admitted.

“The longer you’d been there, the longer you knew him — and you felt sad,” she said. “People that hadn’t been there as long were like, ‘Well, that’s bad… .’ ”

Indeed, Richard Gottfried, the Assembly’s longest serving member at 44 years, for example, initially had said that New Yorkers and the Assembly Democratic majority “needed” Silver to remain as speaker.

“I have confidence that Speaker Silver, with the strong support of the Assembly majority, will continue to do the job of working for a progressive agenda while the current charges are being resolved,” Gottfried had said the day after Silver’s arrest. “There is no one in public life in New York who has fought more effectively, for decades for almost everything I care about in public policy than Sheldon Silver.”

However, Brian Kavanagh, a relative newcomer in the non-term-limited Assembly, having only been elected seven years ago, ultimately called for Silver to step down. The speaker, he said, had “lost the confidence of a majority of our conference.”

Sounding seemingly reform-minded, a group of assemblymembers dubbed the “Suburban Caucus” also said Silver had to go — but then quickly threw their support behind Bronx Democratic Party boss Heastie.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, for one, had tweeted soon after Silver’s arrest that it was “another shameful day in Albany” and that Silver “should resign for the good of the people of New York.”

For now, at least, Silver, a native Lower East Sider, will keep his 65th Assembly District seat, which he has held since 1976. But he would have to relinquish it if convicted of a felony.

“His intention is to fight because he feels that he’s innocent,” Glick said. “The charges are serious, for sure, and distressing. I’m sure there will be an indictment at some point — but he hasn’t been indicted yet.”

As reported in The Villager’s Scoopy’s Notebook, Silver also told his barber at Astor Place Hairstylists, Valentino Gogu, “I will beat them.”

As for who might replace Silver if he vacates the Lower Manhattan seat, names mentioned include District Leader Paul Newell, Consumer Affairs Commissioner Julie Menin and Alan van Capelle, former executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.

“An Asian person would be a very good choice, considering the population,” offered Hank Sheinkopf, the veteran Democratic political strategist.

As for Silver’s replacement as speaker, last week, The New York Times published an investigative article raising questions about Heastie, “Speaker Candidate Drew Ethics Panel’s Notice.” The article noted that the Moreland Commission had probed his unusually high number of travel reimbursements and unitemized expenses. The Times also reported that Heastie has a large credit card debt, from $20,000 to $50,000, plus an aggressive pit bull that has bitten two neighbors — one of them twice.

According to the Times, the commission “subpoenaed his campaign’s bank records to see whether he was using political donations for personal expenses, records show.” However, the paper noted, the commission was halted from finishing its work, and Bharara has shown no interest in Heastie, whose potential violations of campaign spending are “a far cry from out-and-out graft,” in contrast to, for example, Silver’s $4 million in alleged payoffs and kickbacks.

On Tuesday, leading elected officials were quick to praise Heastie’s elevation to speaker, which instantly makes him one of the state’s most powerful politicians.

“New York City needs a strong voice in Albany — and the election of Carl Heastie as speaker of the state Assembly will ensure that our needs are heard and met,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “There is a lot of work ahead, including increasing affordable housing, expanding quality education programs, and lifting wages. My team and I look forward to working with Speaker Heastie and the Legislature to push an agenda that moves New York forward.”

Governor Cuomo said, “In accepting this responsibility on behalf of his colleagues, Speaker Heastie has stepped forward at an incredibly important time for New York as a whole, and I look forward to working with him to enact an aggressive agenda that ensures economic opportunity for all, improves and reforms our education system, ensures justice in perception and in reality, and restores trust in our government.”

Assemblymember Gottfried, in a statement, said, “It is critically important that the Assembly has now come together in support of a new speaker and to see to it that a progressive agenda continues to move ahead — including reducing economic inequality, providing healthcare for every New Yorker, supporting public education, protecting and strengthening the rent laws and tenants’ rights, advancing human and civil rights, implementing criminal justice reform, protecting our environment, and achieving campaign finance and ethics reform.

“Like every individual, Assemblymember Silver deserves due process,” Gottfried added. “But the situation became too disruptive to his ability to lead the Assembly and to the Assembly’s ability to do the people’s work.”

Linda Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side in the Assembly, said she believes Heastie will, in fact, be a reformer.

“Speaker Heastie shares my desire to see reform both within and outside the halls of Albany,” she said. “He is committed to restoring power to the hands of the members, and will be dogged in his support of issues that matter to New Yorkers, such as affordable housing, women’s equality and raising the minimum wage, among many others. I look forward to working with Speaker Heastie to bring about a new day in Albany, one in which the public can again place their faith in their elected officials.”

On Tuesday, Heastie laid out his initial ideas for reform, including creating a new Office of Ethics and Compliance led by a non-legislator, capping how much outside income Albany legislators can earn, and requiring greater reporting of lawmakers’ outside income.

“We will change the cynicism into trust,” Heastie said. “Our state deserves a government as good as its people.”