Presumptive Speaker Carl Heastie: Why the Speaker is a Really, Really Important Position and Why Heastie Can Become the Face of Progressivism in New York State

On Tuesday afternoon, February 10th, the New York State Assembly will probably select Carl Heastie, an Assembly member from the Bronx, as the Speaker.

Heastie has served in the Assembly since 2000 and is a graduate of the State University of New York at Stony Brook where he earned a Bachelor’s of Science in applied Mathematics and Statistics, which he followed up with an MBA in Finance from the Bernard M. Baruch College (CUNY).

Joe Lentol, a 40-year member from Brooklyn who chairs the Committee on Codes has withdrawn his candidacy and Cathy Nolan, a thirty-year member from Queens who chairs the Education Committee is still in the mix.

City and State parses the wheeling and dealing that has been going on behind the scenes.

Another factor is Wright’s recent announcement that he would run for the seat of Rep. Charles Rangel, a longtime ally who plans to retire in two years … Wright was in discussions with Heastie, the chair of the Bronx Democratic Party, about stepping aside to secure the support of his Assembly colleague and the Bronx delegation in his 2016 congressional bid.

A New York Post editorial advocates for a reform agenda,

The bigger problem is [Silver] used his office to ensure the New York state Assembly’s sorry distinction as the least deliberative body in the United States.

The fixes are clear.

It starts with transparency about [Assembly member] outside income. But it also means reforming the entire structure so that the Assembly can operate the way a legislature is supposed to in a democracy: with bills put forth and debated, committees moving legislation, legislators considering amendments and so on.

Instead, we have a top-down Assembly where the people’s elected representatives are merely rubber stamps for the deals their leaders have already worked out behind closed-doors with the governor.

The crucial question is does the next speaker have the cojones, the toughness, the thick skin, if necessary the ruthlessness, to stand up to the governor and the Senate majority leader.

Silver both ran the Democratic Conference with an iron fist and managed the conference’s incredibly diverse membership. Dairy farmers, inner city representatives from New York City, as well as Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo, representatives from high tax affluent suburbs, the Afro-American and Hispanic caucus, the thirty-six female members, and the long line of lobbyists and campaign contributors.

Over the next two years members will submit over 10,000 bills, some high profile, for example:

* legislation to extend rent control, which expires on 6/30/15
* whether to raise the charter school cap
* the Governor’s Education Reform agenda
* the Dreamer legislation

and others, the overwhelming percentage, reflects
the interests of the members,

see Assembly member Rosenthal’s hundred plus bills/laws.

see Assembly member Nolan’s dozen bills,

The Albany legislative bodies have been the subject of scathing criticism for years. An NYU Brennan Center Report quotes a 1948 description of the functioning of the body,

Someday a legislative leadership with a sense of humor will push through both houses resolutions called for the abolition of the bodies and the speedy execution of the members. If read in the usual mumbling tone by the clerk droning on in the usual uninquiring manner, the resolution will be adopted unanimously.

A few of the younger members have asked for “reforms,” in fact, self-serving reforms. Term limits for committee chairs, questioning the use of seniority for committee chairs, committee staff selected by the members not the leadership; of course, they oppose term limits for themselves and might not care if committee chairs didn’t receive additional remuneration.

Heastie will suddenly become a high profile leader, the highest ranking Afro-American elected official in the state who will have to establish himself, (“there’s a new sheriff in town”), he will have to immediately stand up to the governor.

I hope he says,

“I look forward to working with the governor, however:

“There’s no reason to increase the charter school caps. I intend to appoint a committee and hold hearings: Have charter schools improved education in public schools? Are charter schools more effective than public schools? Are there lessons to be learned for public schools from charter schools? Why aren’t we closing low achieving charter schools? What is the impact on public schools when you open charter schools?”

“Washington should not impose testing and teacher evaluation rules on New York State, educational decisions should be made by educators and elected officials in New York State; the Congress is considering making changes in No Child Left Behind, there is no reason for New York State to change any rules, let’s wait for Congress, and let’s urge the Regents to do everything within their power to reduce testing.”

“The funding disparity in New York State is distressing, the lowest wealth districts receive the lowest levels of funding, the current property tax capped system is unworkable, and we have to reform the entire system.”

The liberal wing of the Democratic Party has been adrift; the philosophic leader of party has been Zephyr Teachout, the loser in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Parents, teachers, trade unionists, seniors, civil rights organizations and advocates look to Mayor de Blasio; however, the mayor has been regularly diminished by the governor and trashed by the print media.

Heastie can be the new voice, the anti-Cuomo, a voice for the voiceless, from an anonymous Bronx legislator to a national figure.

Cuomo was able to effectively crush de Blasio, and continues to show the mayor who is in charge. Cuomo “stole” pre-kindergarten by torpedoing the de Blasio “tax the rich” plan and funding pre-k through the state budget; the mayor now is dependent on the governor to fund the program at the core of his mayoralty; the decision to close the subways and keeping the mayor out of the loop was also a sign of disrespect.

The governor will have a hard time slapping down the presumptive speaker – he needs the speaker, and, with a Moreland Commission indictment hanging in the air the last thing the governor needs is an open fight with the first Afro-American leader of the Assembly.

For Heastie there is no boot camp, no pre-season practice, it’s learning to swim by being pushed off the end of the diving board. He could replicate Silver, the taciturn leader who operates behind the scene, the eminence grise, powerful and barely visible, or, the face of the Assembly, reviving the moribund Assembly that has been led by handful of shady powerbrokers.

The editorial board of the New York Times agrees,

“… more independence for legislators is only one item on a long list of reforms, and yes, such openness would make the Capitol a lot noisier. Also, it might take longer to craft and implement legislation. But the vote to replace an authoritarian speaker is a rare opportunity to breathe fresh air into a very stale place, and to begin reforming New York’s very broken system of government.”

Lyndon Johnson was thrust into the presidency,

“In his first address to Congress, on November 27, 1963, a few days after Kennedy was shot, LBJ told the legislators, ‘No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.’

Using his consummate arm-twisting skills and bolstered by ongoing civil protests in the South, LBJ got the Civil Rights Act – outlawing segregation in restaurants, buses, and other public facilities – through Congress and signed it on July 2, 1964. It was the first significant civil rights bill since Reconstruction and changed the country forever.”

Johnson followed with the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The presumptive new speaker is noted for his political skills, and, while we can’t expect him to emulate LBJ he will be in a unique position, the opportunity to become the voice of a current sharply divided party that has meekly followed their sullen leader who was more concerned with enriching himself than enriching the citizens of the state.

Something tells me that until the vote on February 11th the governor’s operatives will be doing everything possible to sink Heastie’s candidacy. Did I see this episode on Scandal?

Advertisements

One response to “Presumptive Speaker Carl Heastie: Why the Speaker is a Really, Really Important Position and Why Heastie Can Become the Face of Progressivism in New York State

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    I wouldn’t count out Nolan too soon. She’s a fighter.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s