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State of Politics: Heastie’s Plans

By Capital Tonight staff, July 28

After surviving a trial by fire over the past five months, during which he negotiated his first-ever budget agreement and an end-of-session Big Ugly, Heastie now has some time to reflect and plan.

He’s in the middle of a tour of upstate members’ districts (he plans to hit all of them), during which the Bronx Democrat is trying to familiarize himself with issues outside his comfort zone of New York City.

Heastie said he doesn’t believe the Legislature will be back in Albany before the start of the 2016 session in January. (He’s siding with the governor in rejecting good government advocates’ calls for a special session to pass more ethics reform, saying that despite recent corruption convictions of former senators, it’s impossible to “legislative morality”).

Before his members return to work, Heastie has some hiring to do. He has to replace Jim Yates, the counsel he inherited from former Speaker Sheldon Silver, who decided to retired at the end of this year’s session.

Heastie said he’s “very sad” to see Yates go, adding: “I wish him the best, and I appreciate everything he’s done.” The speaker does not yet have a plan when it comes to staffing.

As for wholesale changes to the chamber’s committee chairs, don’t expect that, either.

Heastie said “stability” helped his conference enormously this past session, and he relied heavily on the experience of veteran members like Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (Health Committee chair), Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (Education Committee chair) and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (Higher Ed Committee chair) – just to name a few.

Trying to negotiate a budget and end-of-session deal on the fly without the assistance of these and other members would have been “an impossible task,” Heastie said, adding: “I’m not looking to make any changes.”

The speaker is preparing for his first big political test in the form of the 2016 elections. As a former Democratic Party chairman in the Bronx, he is not a stranger to fundraising and candidate support.

But in that role, he only had to worry about primaries due to the overwhelming Democratic enrollment in the county. Now he has to be concerned about both the primary and general election, in which the Democrats will have to protect their so-called “marginal” members in difficult-to-defend seats.

Heastie said he will be trying to take seats from the GOP conference where he and his team believe there’s a good shot of wining. I asked how many members he would eventually like to have in the majority, and he shot back: “150 is fine by me.”

It sounded like he was only half joking. You’ve been warned, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb.