ALBANY – Michael Kearns wants back in.
The South Buffalo Democratic Assemblyman says he has spoken to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie about re-joining the Democratic conference, the group that controls the 150-member legislative house.
Two years after bolting from the Democrats citing former Speaker Sheldon Silver’s mishandling of a sexual harassment case against a Brooklyn lawmaker, Kearns on Wednesday said he has had a “positive meeting” with Heastie about re-joining the conference.
Heastie will decide if and when Kearns might be allowed back in. Heastie took over for Silver earlier this year after the longtime Assembly speaker stepped down following his arrest on corruption charges.
Kearns said Heastie is bringing much-needed changes to the Assembly.
Even when he was a member of the Democratic conference, Kearns was an outsider after he made his anti-Silver sentiments known in his 2012 special election.
But Kearns has found out that not being a member of the majority conference doesn’t help in living up to his job description: law maker.
Kearns has not been able to get a bill passed in the Assembly since he arrived in March 2012.
He is the only Democrat of the 104 in the Assembly unable – or not allowed - to attend closed-door conference meetings with Democrats as they decide what positions to take on policy and fiscal matters. Such private meetings are especially important this time of year when Democrats in the Assembly and Republicans in the Senate huddle to stake out end-of-session positions on dozens of matters.
The chill was evident Wednesday: Kearns answered his own Assembly office phone, unthinkable in Albany where many lawmakers have layers of staff.
Kearns in 2013 left the Democratic conference in protest over how Silver handled sexual harassment allegations brought against Vito Lopez, a former Brooklyn Democratic Party boss and Assembly member.
At the time of Kearns’ departure, Silver’s spokesman Michael Whyland responded: “Two members left the Democratic conference today, Vito Lopez and Mickey Kearns. One was a closet harasser, one a closet Republican. Neither one will be missed.”
Whyland is now Heastie’s chief spokesman. When asked Wednesday about Kearns’ outreach to rejoin the Democratic conference, he said: “It would be a conference decision."
Kearns said the meeting he had recently with Heastie was “very friendly and very positive.” Kearns noted he played in a basketball game Tuesday night that pitted state lawmakers, including Heastie, against a group of Albany high school students. Lawmakers won, and Kearns acknowledged he didn’t have the playing time of Heastie.
“He started. He’s the Speaker,’’ Kearns said.
And why does he want to rejoin the Democratic conference?
“One of the things I said when I left conference was … I’m not coming back until (Silver) is not the leader. We now have a new leader who wants to look at doing business in a different way and I’d like to be part of making some reforms and changes in Albany. I think I can be an independent voice of the conference.”