ALBANY – When he ran for the Assembly last year in a special election, Michael Kearns said that, when given the chance, he would vote against Sheldon Silver as leader of the Assembly.
Last week, he got his chance.
“I voted no,” said the Democratic member of the Assembly from Buffalo.
“That’s something that was very important to me. I wanted to let people know that I kept a campaign promise. I said I was going to do that and I did it,” Kearns said of his vote.
Kearns last year had to write a letter essentially saying he believes in Democratic Party principles in order to sit with the Assembly Democratic conference.
Last week, at the start of a new legislative session, Kearns got his first opportunity to vote on Silver’s bid to continue leading the Assembly. Silver has been speaker during the terms of five governors.
Only one other Democrat voted against Silver in the closed-door meeting, according to Kearns: Assemblywoman Inez Barron from Brooklyn.
Kearns cited what he called a “top down” approach to governing in Albany for his vote against Silver. He called the gun control package being voted on Tuesday as a perfect example; he noted that the bill is not going through the usual three-day “aging” period to give the public and special-interest groups time to read the measure and press for possible changes.
“I came to Albany to make changes and to make a difference. I wanted a more open and transparent and open Albany ... I think this bill’s a perfect example of it where we’re rushing from top down instead of having an open and transparent process,” Kearns said.
The lawmaker, elected last year in a special election to fill the seat of former Assemblyman Mark J.F. Schroeder, said he met with Silver before the vote and as “a courtesy” told him of his plans to vote no.
“It was fine,” Kearns said before cutting himself off and saying he would not discuss what was said in the private meeting.
Asked if he has felt any retribution for his vote, Kearns at first said no.
But then he noted that he has not been given a bill number for a piece of legislation he wants to get introduced.
“That’s been held up for a while,” Kearns said of the measure, which would end the practice of secret court settlements.
The legislation comes at a sensitive time in the Assembly; Silver has been sharply criticized for approving a secret settlement last year for a Brooklyn Democrat, Vito Lopez, who had been accused of approving a $103,000 taxpayer-funded settlement in a sexual harassment case.
Kearns said his legislation would go further than just applying to government agencies and the Legislature. Citing secret settlements by companies and everyone from the Boy Scouts to the Catholic Church, Kearns said he is seeking to follow a model used in Texas to ban secret court settlements by private entities.
“We’re making secret settlements in this state, and we’re hurting people,” Kearns said.