New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced his resignation as two lawmakers jockeyed for his position Friday following federal charges that the longtime leader took nearly $4 million in kickbacks.
The Manhattan Democrat filed a letter with the clerk of the Assembly making his resignation effective as of 11:59 p.m. Monday, spokesman Michael Whyland said. Silver, who has said he expects to be exonerated, intends to keep his Assembly seat.
Democrats in the Assembly say they were ready to oust Silver if he had not resigned, and have already begun the process of picking his successor.
On Friday, Majority Leader Joseph Morelle dropped out of the race and threw his support to Assemblyman Carl Heastie of the Bronx, who appears to have the job locked up.
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan of Queens remains the only other candidate.
Lawmakers had initially planned to wait for two weeks to pick a successor to Silver, who became speaker in 1994. But with Heastie emerging as the clear front runner it's possible the vote could occur as early as Tuesday. If not, Morelle would serve as acting speaker until a new speaker is selected.
On Friday Morelle said he's confident that Heastie can unite legislators. They've discussed at length how to advance the best interests of New Yorkers "by making the New York Assembly more inclusive and member-driven," he said.
Heastie said they've spoken daily over the past week about their shared commitment to restoring the Assembly's integrity. He has asked Morelle to remain in the No. 2 post as majority leader "and play a greater role in that capacity," he said.
The Assembly's majority Democrats decided Silver needs to step aside following federal charges that he took nearly $4 million in kickbacks over a decade in return for his influence on legislation and state grants. Silver denies the charges.
Morelle followed Assemblyman Keith Wright of Manhattan and Joseph Lentol of the Bronx in dropping out and backing Heastie, a legislator for 14 years and former financial analyst for the New York City comptroller. Heastie also heads the Bronx Democratic County Committee.
Lentol said Thursday that Heastie already had most, if not all, the 76 votes needed to become speaker of the 150-seat Assembly.
"Joe and I, along with our very talented colleagues in the Democratic conference, will work hard every day to build consensus, enact meaningful new reforms, and create opportunity for all New Yorkers," Heastie said in a prepared statement. He has declined requests for interviews about his prospects and plans.
Reformers among the Assembly Democrats, who have a two-thirds majority, have proposed more transparency and rank-and-file input in decisions including leadership selection, staffing and money in a chamber better known for backroom decisions and top-down control. They proposed starting with a more open vetting process and have candidates answer questions about those and other possible reforms.
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