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At meeting with Al Sharpton, new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says a person of color will now 'sit at the table'

New State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie speaks receives

New State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie speaks receives prayer from Rev. Al Sharpton at the National Action Network Headquarters in Harlem. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

The newly picked speaker of the state Assembly, Carl Heastie, paid his respects Saturday to the Rev. Al Sharpton in one of the lawmaker's first New York City appearances since assuming the powerful post.

Heastie, a Bronx Democrat who last week became the first African-American to hold the chamber's highest position, said he felt especially proud to "break that glass ceiling" in February: Black History Month.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for our community, for the first time, to have one of us sit at the table," Heastie told Sharpton's weekly rally in Harlem. "All of you are going to be sitting at that table with me for the first time."

Heastie is the first new speaker in more than 20 years, succeeding Sheldon Silver, who quit the post after being arrested on federal corruption charges.

The speaker is one of the proverbial "three men in the room," who along with the State Senate leader and governor, control almost all state government affairs: budgets, legislation and beyond.

Good-government groups have long criticized the triumvirate, saying three men behind closed doors are invested with ultimate power over the state's nearly 20 million people. The opaque arrangement also came under fire from Silver's prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who last month slammed it as stifling democracy in a "cauldron of corruption" capital.

Sharpton, who led a prayer blessing for Heastie Saturday, said: "Don't talk about breaking up the trio now! We just got in the trio!"

He added of Heastie, "He doesn't holler loud like me. But he ain't no punk. I want y'all to know that."

For his part, Heastie suggested that unease with the trifecta comes from a misperception, since the speaker has the support of his colleagues.

Asked after Sharpton's rally whether he disagreed with Bharara, Heastie said, "It's just that if you speak -- build consensus -- there's no real disagreement."

In the days before he joined the short list of potential speakers, Heastie was dogged by reports about missed votes, travel expenses and sloppy record keeping.

Heastie, the former Bronx Democratic boss, pooh-poohed "the baptism that I'm going through."

"If this is what I have to go through to sit at the table," he said, "then they can keep coming."

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