Ever since investigations into Governor Andrew Cuomo launched earlier this year—notably a wide-ranging impeachment probe by the Assembly Judiciary Committee that cost about $250,000 to carry out—Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was repeatedly accused of slow-walking the probe to cover for the governor, who is expected to resign next week.

Last week, Heastie announced the Assembly Judiciary Committee would suspend its investigation citing Cuomo’s resignation and questions over the constitutionality of impeaching a now departing governor, plus the multiple criminal investigations in progress. Members, including those on the committee, openly criticized Heastie for effectively shutting down the probe, reaffirming the belief Heastie shielded Cuomo.

His decision also roiled Cuomo’s accusers, including Charlotte Bennett, whose account was detailed in a 168-page report by State Attorney General Letitia James that found Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women.

The decision to stop impeachment proceedings also opens the door for Cuomo to run for re-election (impeachment would have prohibited him from doing so).

Heastie, a moderate Democrat, courted more outrage last Friday when it was unclear whether he’d allow the committee to release a report on its findings. Following public pressure, Heastie said on Monday results of the investigation will be shared.

Despite protestations from state lawmakers asserting Heastie had allowed the investigation to lag, his political reputation has remained intact. Many political observers and members of the Assembly interviewed by Gothamist/WNYC expressed continued confidence in Heastie. They also argued the investigation offered a look into the leadership style of Heastie, driven not by impulse but consensus-building.

Other Assembly Members in his party, however, were apparently more measured with at least one member telling Gothamist/WNYC Heastie would have lost total confidence from members if the Assembly did not pursue an investigation or release a report.

“He would not have survived as speaker if he didn't do this,” said one Assemblymember, who spoke anonymously so they could speak candidly. “I think many people were in a place where they felt like Carl had to choose between us and Cuomo. And, in essence, in choosing us or Cuomo, he had to choose himself or Cuomo.”

Losing support would have meant losing the speakership. Members choose a speaker every two years during the start of the legislative session. The post carries no term limits; disgraced former speaker Sheldon Silver held the position from 1994-2015, until his arrest on federal corruption charges.

Heastie, the first Black Assembly Speaker in New York, represents the 83rd Assembly District, a largely residential section of the Bronx that’s home to a large Black constituency. He’s represented the north Bronx district since 2000, 15 years before he was elected speaker to succeed Silver, currently leading 106 Democrats in the 150-member body.

Speakers have great control over the state's budget in which portions of it can be used to fund capital projects, typically supporting causes of their own choosing. Heastie's speakership position has bolstered impoverished borough with a number of improvements, like a long-awaited YMCA in Edenwald and a pedestrian bridge linking two points of Van Cortlandt Park.

He has developed a reputation as a mediator particularly as chair of the Bronx Democratic Party, when he was elected to the post in 2009. Heastie led the so-called “Rainbow Rebellion” of lawmakers to oust Heastie’s party chair predecessor, Jose Rivera.

Carl Heastie and Andrew Cuomo, in suits in the wood paneled executive building, are smiling

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2015

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Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2015
NY Governor's Office

Since serving as speaker, Heastie has maintained a stable working relationship with Cuomo, helping to usher legislation, notably the passage of the $15 living wage bill. Cuomo appeared with Heastie in the Bronx to announce his support to approve the wage in 2016.

“Carl's likable,” Assemblymember Karines Reyes, a Democrat who represents portions of the southeast Bronx. “I think that’s a very good personality trait that allows him to work with a lot of people. And people kind of feel like they’re not being screwed over by him.”

Reyes said she was convinced by the Assembly’s attorneys argument that impeaching after Cuomo left office was not possible after resigning, a position still in contention. During a closed-door conference with members, in which audio was reportedly leaked, Heastie pressed for fairness throughout the proceeding.

But another member, who asked to remain anonymous fearing retribution, said despite flowery statements from members, Heastie's survivability stems from his control of a member's budget. The member said fear has kept their colleagues from really expressing their frustration with Heastie and his handling of the probe.

A spokesperson for Heastie declined to comment for this article.

Even so, Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, another Bronx colleague, said criticism at Heastie should not be construed as a lack of confidence. He also did not fault Heastie for changing his mind on releasing the Judiciary Committee’s findings.

“There can be disagreements without people speculating, ‘Oh, does this mean this person is in political trouble? If we were 100% in lockstep on every issue all the time, how would that look?” Dinowitz said. “There will be criticism of that—'everybody's just following the leader.’ People have a right to speak their own minds.”

Dinowitz also found there to be little chance anyone would want to challenge Heastie even after he was criticized for his handling of the Cuomo probe. Currently there are no challengers surfacing to challenge Heastie, who hasn’t faced a primary since becoming speaker. Even more emboldened political groups, such as the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America have not presented a candidate to challenge Heastie.

“I would find it incredibly difficult to believe that Heastie, given that he’s bringing the first YMCA to his district in 30-something years, I don’t believe he’s going to be challenged nor, frankly does the DSA really have a record of really winning in this area yet. This isn’t Brooklyn or Queens,” said John Doyle, a district leader in the neighboring 82nd Assembly District. “They have evidence of doing well in certain areas of the city, but the Bronx is kind of the last frontier for them.”

A DSA spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

Whether a challenger surfaces, defeating Heastie would be insurmountable, Dinowitz said.

“He has extraordinary support in his own district amongst the voters,” Dinowitz said. “If somebody did run against them, I think he would wipe the floor with that person. That's my own opinion.”