By Bill Parry
Knowing she lacked the support of her own colleagues, state Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood) stepped aside Monday in the race to replace disgraced former Speaker Sheldon Silver.
The move cleared the Democratic field, enabling Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie to overwhelmingly defeat Republican Minority Leader Brian Kolb and become the state Assembly’s new leader.
While Nolan thanked members of the borough’s Democratic conference for their “support and encouragement” during the process in a statement and acknowledged “those who were forthright in telling me that they prefer another candidate,” she said “our Assembly Democratic Majority Conference is strong because we are candid with one another.”
Although Nolan has won 16 campaigns and has carved out a distinguished record on education in the Assembly, when it came to the powerful speaker’s post, the Queens Democratic Machine did not back her, Queens political observers said.
Nolan rejected the notion that she dropped out of the race because she didn’t have enough votes against Heastie, who had the backing of several Democratic county organizations.
“I did not drop out of this process even as many reported various vote totals and withdrawn candidacies, because I think, in this crisis, it is essential that all members of the state Legislature examine our rules and look closely at proposals for reform and openness,” she said. “Indeed, I would have preferred a vote on Feb. 10 which would have allowed for discussion and review of proposals for reform and perhaps have allowed some new rules to go forward in tandem with the election of a new speaker.”
Nolan had positioned her bid as a challenge to the male-dominated culture in Albany, which has never had a woman speaker.
“I am aware of the historic nature of Assemblyman Carl Heastie’s candidacy as I am of my own,” she said, referring to the fact that he is black. “I believe that I have put at least a scratch in the glass ceiling for women. I congratulate Assemblyman Heastie and I understand the joy that his election will bring to all communities of our state.”
The 47-year-old Heastie replaced Silver, who was arrested on federal corruption charges last month, and became the first African-American speaker Tuesday.
“Today was a historic day,” Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-East Elmhurst) said. “I have every confidence in Mr. Heastie’s ability to lead ‘the People’s House.’ I know that Speaker Heastie will steer the Assembly towards an era of moral budgets that takes the needs of all New Yorkers into account and legislation that is worthy of the people we serve.”
Heastie promised to create a new office of ethics compliance and restore the chamber’s reputation.
“We will change the cynicism into trust,” Heastie said. “Our state deserves a government as good as its people.”
While Heastie has not been accused of wrongdoing, his spending was examined by the Moreland Commission, the anticorruption panel that was disbanded by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March 2014.
On Monday, Cuomo outlined his own ethics reform agenda during a speech at NYU’s School of Law.
“This has been a difficult month for the state of New York, the reputation of the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “The headlines have been ugly.”
Cuomo went on to present a plan to “clean up Albany and restore trust” that would ban outside income for lawmakers and force the Legislature to work full-time, or enact new rules for outside pay. He also called stricter limits on lawmakers’ use of expense allowances and campaign funds.
“The bottom line is that New Yorkers will never trust the government’s authenticity until they know the who, what and where of outside employment,” Cuomo said. “Either end it entirely or thoroughly disclose it. There is no middle ground.”
. He vowed not to sign the budget this year unless ethics reforms are instituted.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4538.