ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Carl Heastie was elected speaker of the New York state Assembly on Tuesday, making him the first African-American to hold the powerful position.
Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx, succeeds Sheldon Silver who resigned after being charged with allegedly taking nearly $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks.
After the vote Tuesday, 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.''
The speaker is considered one of the most important positions in 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.
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.
NY Assembly Picks Heastie As Speaker To Succeed Silver
Four other lawmakers initially sought the speakership but quickly backed out as Heastie locked up support.
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.
"Speaker Heastie's credentials speak for themselves," Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said in a statement. "He has done a great job representing his Bronx and New York City constituents since first being elected in 2000 and will continue to do so in his new role as 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.
Heastie addressed the controversial issue Tuesday head-on, WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reported.
"We have to reform the way we regulate legislative outside income," he said. "We must raise their wages so we can fairly compensate our members as we attract the best and the brightest minds in our state."
Cuomo on Monday said he would not sign a budget for the state this year that doesn't include a plan for legislative ethics reform.
"I've seen acts of corruption after acts of corruption after acts of corruption," he said. "I've seen a whole string of politicians, one after the other, saying 'I'm not like the other guy, trust me' and I had my heart-broken again and again and again."
Cuomo outlined several changes he said should take place, including full disclosure of all outside income for legislators; stopping the personal use of campaign funds; updating campaign finance laws to require more disclosure; and removing state pensions from lawmakers convicted of public corruption. He's spoken about some of the reforms before.
Cuomo made the demand just hours before Silver officially stepped down as speaker. He said the Legislature as a whole has to decide whether to become full-time or put stringent checks and balances on outside income.
He said he anticipates legislators digging in their heels about new ethics laws, claiming they would be an invasion into their private lives and that a majority of ethical lawmakers would be scrutinized because of a few who commit wrongs.
"Legislators will say that this is an intrusion into their private business and they will be right, but my answer is that their private business has intruded into state government first, and that public service is a privilege and an honor and it is a sacrifice that they must make,'' Cuomo said.
Cuomo has long talked about dealing with corruption and created a commission to investigate it among lawmakers in 2013.
A year later, Cuomo shuttered that commission in a deal with Silver and Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos. Cuomo also faces questions about whether his office tried to prevent the Moreland Commission from investigating groups linked to the governor.
Bill Lipton, director of the state Working Families Party, said, "If the governor is serious about fighting corruption in Albany he'll insure that all five points of the plan he outlined today, including the number one recommendation of the Moreland Commission, public financing of elections, remain in the budget.''
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