Last week, the Assembly’s Democratic majority said that long time Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) will leave that position today.
Silver became Assembly Speaker in February 1994. He was recently accused of five counts of bribery and corruption by federal prosecutors. Instead of going into session last week, Assembly Democrats debated the issue behind closed doors. They ultimately decided that Silver no longer had their support as Assembly Speaker.
The race to replace Silver appeared wide open at first — with five Assembly members indicating that they would run for the position: Majority Leader (D-Monroe County) Joe Morelle, Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), Cathy Nolan (D-Queens), Keith Wright (D-Manhattan) and Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn). Morelle, Wright and Lentol have since dropped out of the race, and all have announced that they intend to support for Heastie.
A coalition of Assembly Democrats are calling for the next Assembly leader to reform the way the chamber is run. They are seeking to reduce the power of the Speaker; giving rank-and-file members a greater role in the legislative process; giving committee chairs more authority and autonomy; and running the Assembly in a more transparent manner. We agree.
We are obviously quite fond of Joe Morelle, the only Upstater in the race. But he faced a huge barrier to overcome – the vast majority of the Assembly’s Democratic Conference is from the New York City area. We hope that the new Speaker will recognize the importance of keep him as Assembly Majority Leader, a position that has handled with distinction.
What does a change in terms of the Assembly Speaker mean for Upstate? Probably not much, unfortunately. But we can hope that the new Assembly leadership will look at some of the long-standing issues that we urged them to address (such as Wicks Law reform and Scaffold Law reform, to give just two examples), but the reality is that no major shift in the Assembly’s positions are likely to occur.