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NYSNYS NEWS: Heastie elected Assembly speaker, with protest votes going to prosecutor Preet Bharara and simply 'reform.'
NYSNYS NEWS: Heastie elected Assembly speaker, with protest votes going to prosecutor Preet Bharara and simply 'reform.'

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (February 4) Asked to pick a replacement Tuesday for Sheldon Silver, Assembly member Steve McLaughlin (R-Melrose) cast his ballot for Preet Bharara, the hard-charging prosecutor who had Silver arrested and handcuffed.

"I thought it was a clear message that I'm as fed up as the public is with the corruption here in Albany," McLaughlin said afterwards. "I've been fed up since the day I arrived and I just thought it was a good way to voice my opinion about what's going on."

McLaughlin wasn't alone in casting a protest vote. Assembly member Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) also voted for Bharara, while Michael Kearns (D-Buffalo) voted for "reform" in the alphabetical roll call. Silver, who sat stone-faced a few rows away, voted for Carl Heastie, the little known Bronx Democratic chairman Democrats rallied around after Silver was arrested on bribery and kickback charges that could land him in federal prison for decades.

Silver stepped down as speaker Monday night, but says he intends to keep his seat. As legislators heaped praised on each other and Heastie, Silver received no mention or thanks for his 21 years of service as speaker. He was spirited out of the Assembly Chamber after the vote, disappearing behind closed doors on the pretext of a cell phone call.

McLaughlin said he has nothing against Heastie, but would not vote for any Democrat for the speaker of the Assembly. The other candidate who got votes Tuesday was Brian Kolb, the GOP minority leader. The speaker's job is one of the "three men in a room" in Albany who make virtually all important decisions about taxes, spending and other state government concerns.

Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, has questioned why legislators turn over all power to just three men, the two leaders of the Legislature's majority conferences and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Bharara has launched an ongoing investigation of state government corruption, including looking into why Cuomo shut down the Moreland investigation of Albany corruption last spring.

"We have a real window for reform which is wide open and I think we rushed this vote too quickly," McLaughlin said of the vote to replace Silver, which was originally scheduled for February 10 but was held within hours after Silver stepped down.

"As a result of that I just felt like sending a message that Preet Bharara was my guy was the right thing to do," McLaughlin said.

Heastie spoke with reporters briefly after his election, promising to listen to legislators and go along with reforms of the Assembly that critics say are necessary as a result of the latest corruption scandal to hit Albany.