Assembly hopes to usher in change as race to replace Silver narrows


ALBANY – The race to replace Sheldon Silver as assembly speaker is down to three candidates.

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol has bowed out and is now backing Carl Heastie. The other two candidates are Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan. As the three candidates duke it out, other assembly members are laying out guidelines for what they want to see in a new speaker- hoping to use Silver’s exit as an opportunity to usher in change.

“We are trying to very much influence the process,” said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, who is one of 23 assembly members who came together to form a Reform Coalition, seeking a leader who will launch a new era of transparency at the capitol.

“It’s not just about picking a new speaker to represent the entire state. It’s about how we restore confidence, how we come together as a body and how we build a better, stronger institution as a result of this,” she said.

On Thursday, the coalition sent a letter to the three candidates vying for silver’s seat, calling for more transparency, increased member participation, and for the formation of a task force on reform.

“We’re concerned. We want to make sure there’s better transparency in the legislature, we want to make sure there’s an opportunity for legislation, good legislation, to move through the committees properly and sometimes members have felt that it’s been hindered and not for good reasons,” said Assemblyman John McDonald.

“We want to make it participatory and we want to make it not as rigid a seniority system. We want to have that opportunity for other voices to be heard,” said Fahy.

The executive director of the think tank, Empire Center for Public Policy, Tim Hoefer, says term limits are one of the reforms that should be considered.

“We’ve seen a lot of corruption cases come out of the legislature in the last few years and it can’t all be attributed to, but some of it can be attributed to that you’re rewarded for the longer you serve,” said Hoefer.

Sheldon Silver’s 38 years in the Assembly allowed him to amass immense political power which he is accused of abusing to pocket millions of dollars in kickbacks. And it’s that 38 years in a public office that will give him a pension worth more than the annual salary of a rank-and-file assembly member.

If Silver were to retire this year, he would receive about $87,120 a year until he dies.

“So taxpayers will be continuing to pay him even if he is found guilty of using their money to personally benefit millions of dollars?” I asked.

“True,” said Hoefer.

The candidates also received a second letter Thursday from a group of five ‘good government’ organizations asking for them to hold a public forum before Feb. 10 to lay out their visions and agendas if elected speaker.

© 2015 WNYT