New Speaker Vows Reform, but Past Reflects Status Quo

ALBANY (AP) -

The day before he was elected speaker of the New York Assembly, Carl Heastie met with several lawmakers calling themselves the reform caucus because of their interest in ending Albany’s legacy of secrecy and backroom dealing.

It was a closed-door meeting, but somebody locked the door to be sure. It was a small but telling sign of just how entrenched Albany’s insider culture is and how difficult it will be for Heastie to make good on his promises of reform.

The Bronx democrat has promised to overhaul the ethics rules for lawmakers to require disclosure of outside income and address the rules governing per diems, the reimbursements lawmakers receive for their travel and stays in Albany.

“All the things that the public questions and worries about, we want to take a look at to give the public more trust,” Heastie said.

Heastie’s own record and background reflect the system he now vows to change. He received more than $23,000 in travel and accommodation reimbursements for legislative business — the third-highest amount in the Assembly in 2014.

His campaign filings show tens of thousands of dollars in credit card payments for unspecified expenses and several thousand more that Heastie pocketed as reimbursements. His campaign spent more than $22,000 at a mechanic in the Bronx. He did not participate in 173 votes last year, one of 18 members of the 150-member Assembly to miss more than 150 votes.

Heastie has said he has claimed more reimbursements because he typically travels to Albany the night before a session week begins. A spokesman said the missed votes came on two days in which he was working as an adjunct professor and a third when he attended a school event for his daughter. All three were busy days in the last weeks of the session.

Government watchdog groups note that lawmakers’ financial disclosures or voting records commonly raise concerns. Heastie, though, will have to lead by example if he hopes to address Albany’s reputation for secrecy and loose ethics rules.

Heastie makes $79,500 as a lawmaker — plus an additional $14,000 for being a committee chairman — and makes a small amount as an adjunct professor at Monroe College.

“Few legislators have no questions about them,” said Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey, who added that the new speaker “will need to demonstrate a break from the past.”