Playing defense for Cuomo puts Heastie’s Speakership in jeopardy

The progressive wing of the Assembly Democratic caucus is becoming increasingly disgruntled with the leadership of Carl Heastie in recent weeks, as the Speaker pulls out all of the stops to play defense for New York’s embattled and newly disgraced governor.

In the face of mounting allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and coercion, Governor Andrew Cuomo has refused to step aside and has even taunted the State Legislature to impeach him.  More than 120 members of the Assembly have already called on Cuomo to resign — dozens more than would be needed to impeach him with a simple majority vote.

Assembly leaders were demanding an impeachment vote on March 15th, but Heastie aggressively smeared Cuomo’s accusors (five of whom are State employees) in a private caucus meeting where he called them liars and openly cast doubt on their integrity.

Sources say that caucus meeting outraged the progressive wing of the party, particularly female legislators who were shocked at the lengths Heastie was going to protect Cuomo.  Heastie even insisted that the women be interrogated by law enforcement for hours and be placed under oath.

Then days later, at Heastie’s behest, the Assembly retained Davis Polk, a law firm with close ties to Cuomo and his appointed-Appellate Court Judge Janet DiFiore, whom Cuomo had recommended to lead an ostensibly independent investigation of allegations before Attorney General Tish James announced her investigation.

State Appellate Court Judge Janet DiFiore was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. She is closely tied to the New York law firm Davis Polk, and observers fear she may attempt to influence the Assembly’s investigation into her political ally.

Retaining the firm shocked Albany, where political operatives perceived the move as a blatant attempt to corrupt the Assembly’s investigation — presumably to help the Governor discredit the many women who have come forward.

The actions have many progressives quietly urging Assemblyman Ron Kim — whom Governor Cuomo threatened to destroy just weeks ago — to launch a bid for the leadership post.  Kim has made no commitments to do so but has been fielding calls from allies in the chamber.

The Asian American community has long been under-represented and under-engaged in New York politics. Assemblyman Ron Kim is seen as a civic leader with the ability to mobilize the large, successful, and diverse community.

Meanwhile, rumors in Albany suggest that Heastie may have his own scandal percolating on the horizon — in which case he might step aside as Speaker to preempt it.  In that scenario, it’s thought that his chief ally in the chamber, the Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, would take the gavel.

Operatives postulate that Heastie could step into the Majority Leader role.  Others argue that Peoples-Stokes would be more likely to name Kim as Majority Leader, in an attempt to unify the caucus in the event that Kim does launch a leadership bid against her or Heastie.

Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes is Carl Heastie’s closest political ally in the Assembly. Some in the Democratic caucus argue that a female Speaker would help the party manage sexual harassment scandals that could easily spillover from the Governor’s office and flow deep into the chamber.

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