By Assemblyman Will Barclay
It is a tumultuous time in the New York Assembly.
Long-time serving Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, has been arrested for public corruption. After initially standing by Silver, claiming, amazingly, that his arrest will not be a distraction, members the NYC-dominated Democrat majority in the Assembly finally came to their senses and realized that supporting Silver was a politically tenuous position and that a new Speaker must be elected.
In the days that followed, a number of Democratic Assembly members, exclusively from NYC, with the exception of one, announced their candidacy to replace Silver.
Good government groups, editorial writers and a number of Assembly Republicans called for the election of the next Speaker to be an open process allowing candidates to publicly express how they would run the chamber and what reforms, if any, they would support.
Sadly, it does not look like that type of process is going to take place.
It has been reported that with the backing of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and a number of borough Democratic party chairs, Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie has enough support to be the next Speaker.
If these reports are true, I urge soon-to-be Speaker Heastie, to embrace reform.
Sheldon Silver dominated our chamber for such a long time and to such an extent that he solely controlled the way ethics investigations were run, he determined which bills made it to the floor of the house, and he determined how much resources and staff individual Assembly members received.
Silver embraced the three-men-in-a-room budget process where the Governor, Senate President, and Assembly Speaker divvied how state money was going to be spent leaving rank and file members of the legislature on the sidelines.
With Sheldon Silver soon to be the ex-speaker, we have opportunity to change the way Albany is run and bring accountability back to state government.
This is the time for our house, with a new Speaker, to reform the way the Assembly operates.
Some of the common sense rules reform that would change Albany for the better include: (i) imposing term limits on leadership positions so that one representative cannot serve for more than eight years in a leadership position; (ii) require public hearings on legislation; and (iii) strengthen and provide more independence to our Assembly standing committees.
Along with these changes, let’s also adopt ethics reforms such as: (i) requiring elected officials convicted of a felony to forfeit their state pensions; (ii) create an independent Assembly ethics committee as opposed to an ethics committee that is directly controlled by the Speaker; and (iii) require that any complaint made against an Assembly member or staff member to be referred to the ethics committee.
The people are discouraged by the way Albany has been run and I share their frustration.
I never supported Silver for Speaker because of his refusal to allow reform.
The change in leadership in the Assembly provides us with a great opportunity.
Over the next couple of weeks, I look forward to joining with like-minded representatives in advocating for reform.
I will only support a Speaker who is willing to change the way the Assembly is operated.
If you have any comments or questions regarding this or any other state matter, please feel free to contact me.
My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.