This year New York politics began with a bang! In late January this year, the Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver was forced to end his 21-year reign because of corruption charges. He could not have had worse timing — by law, the New York Legislature meets January to July, bringing 150 Assembly Members and 63 Senate Members from all around the state together two to four days a week.
But votes were cast this week and a new Speaker of the Assembly has been elected. Mr. Carl Heastie, 47, is the chamber’s first African-American speaker. He represents the 83th district (northeast Bronx), was elected in 2000, and is a Democrat though he is known to be more conservative than his colleagues. He earned a Bachelor of Science at SUNY Stony Brook and later an MBA at CUNY Baruch College. Mr. Heastie was one of the lead negotiators for the construction of a new K-8 school in his district as well as securing funds for housing, education, after school programs, health and human services, jobs readiness and computer training. He also authored a law that helps victims of domestic violence be released from lease obligations that helps prevent them from staying in a harmful environment.
According to the NYTimes, Speaker Heastie met with members of the Reform Caucus on Monday and is committed to “mak[ing] the Assembly more open, transparent, and accountable to the voters.”
One red flag was raised regarding Mr. Heastie’s spending of campaign funds, per diem, and travel expenses. The state’s anti-corruption committee, Moreland Commission, had looked into Heastie’s spending from 2008 to 2013 and found more than $10,000 that was not accounted for. Lawmakers are questioning whether campaign funds were diverted for personal use. He has also spent the third most of anyone in the Assembly on travel and per diem — a whopping $23,440 in 2014. But Carl Heastie has not been accused of any wrongdoing and law enforcement has not signaled any interest in him.
So, it appears college students are not the only ones dealing with the drama and excitement of starting a new semester — our policymakers are getting their fair share too.