Jamaican News

New York state Assembly elects first African American leader, who will hold powerful position

By David Klepper


 (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

ALBANY, N.Y. _ The New York state Assembly on Tuesday elected its first African-American speaker, who will lead a chamber that has been rocked by scandal.

Carl Heastie is a Democrat from the Bronx in New York City. He succeeds Sheldon Silver, the longtime leader who resigned after being charged with taking nearly $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks.

The speaker is one of the most important positions in New York state government. Heastie will direct the flow of legislation, set committee assignments and direct budget negotiations with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Republican-controlled state Senate.

After the vote, Heastie repeated his promise to make ethics overhaul a priority.

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

Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle said his heart “was filled with joy” to know that Tuesday would go down in history as the day the Assembly picked its first African-American speaker.

Heastie noted that the Assembly was, coincidentally, scheduled to take up a resolution honouring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

“Thank you, Dr. King, for making this day possible,” Heastie said.

Four other lawmakers initially sought the speakership but quickly backed out as Heastie locked up support. One of them, Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, said Heastie “is one of the most honourable people I’ve met” in Albany.

The 47-year-old Heastie was first elected in 2000 and has led the Assembly’s Labor Committee for the past two years. He is a former budget analyst in the New York City Comptroller’s Office. He also leads the Bronx Democratic County Committee, a post he has said he will leave now that he is speaker.

Silver led the Assembly for 21 years before his resignation. The Manhattan Democrat has said he expects to be exonerated and intends to keep his seat in the Assembly.

On Monday, Heastie outlined his reform proposal, calling for a new Office of Ethics and Compliance led by a non-legislator, new limits on how much outside income lawmakers can earn, and greater reporting of outside income and legislative stipends. Outside pay is a central issue in the case against Silver.

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