In June, five State Assembly incumbents lost their seats to challengers here in the five boroughs. While some losses may have just been the result of shifting demographics, in almost every instance the winners in those races considered themselves progressives whose politics were to the left of the incumbent.

What You Need To Know

  • Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie sat down for an exclusive interview, his first since the June primary

  • The speaker says he doesn’t think five losses to more progressive challengers means a significant change to makeup of majority conference

  • Heastie also believes taxing the rich is one solution to the state’s current economic crisis

In an exclusive interview, his first since those seats were lost, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie reflected on the changes.

“Those were districts that were very favorable to the kind of message that the winners campaigned on,” the Democrat said. “Bernie Sanders did well in those districts, Cynthia Nixon did well in those districts, Zephyr Teachout did well in those districts.”

Heastie backed the incumbents who lost, and now may have a more difficult conference to manage when the new Assembly convenes in January. He has been meeting with the new members over the last few weeks.

“We talked all about commonality. They are ready, and they say they are ready to get to work. They understand that they are part of a conference of 107-member conference,” Heastie said. “And like other members, they are going to talk about what’s important to them. But I don’t see this as some kind of sea change.”

In April, the controversial state budget bill passed the Assembly by just one vote. Some saw that as a sign that the conference is becoming less eager to compromise and work with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Then last week, the five challengers — who are not yet members — and two others who won open seats, penned an op-ed in City Limits using pointed language in urging Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to pass what’s known as the Budget Equity Act, which would give the legislature more power in budget negotiations.

The op-ed said, “So, why are Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Carl Heastie blocking efforts to give their own members equal budget authority?“

“To those I met with the after the op-ed, you know, we talked about it, about how things work, and how we will work together,” the Assembly Speaker said. “But a lot of time was not spent on that op-ed, to be honest.”

We also asked the speaker if he thinks raising taxes on the wealthy will be necessary to offset revenue losses due to COVID-19 and the economic crisis the state is currently in.

“Zack, you know the Assembly even before I became speaker, and certainly since I’ve become speaker we’ve always favored asking those who have more to contribute their fair share,” he told me. “And that hasn’t changed.”

Heastie also says he favors giving the city authorization to borrow money to meet operating expenses. This is something the mayor has been seeking, but the state Senate and the governor have been cool to the idea so far. It would take an act of the legislature to allow the city to borrow billions of dollars.


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Main story image: Hans Pennink/AP.