Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie Has Been Dating a Legislative Lobbyist

While Heastie privately pledged to avoid meetings with relevant interests, lobbyist Rebecca Lamorte has sought to keep representing them before the Assembly, according to her employer’s attorney.

Chris Bragg   ·   March 14, 2024
New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie speaking at a press conference in 2021
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie speaks at a press conference in 2021. | Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

The state-controlled “I Love New York” suite, a VIP box at the Buffalo Bills’ home Highmark Stadium, was filled with top state politicians, lobbyists, and their significant others. On December 17, as a key late-season clash unfolded between the Bills and the Dallas Cowboys, Governor Kathy Hochul, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, and lobbyist Patrick Jenkins were among the 16 people gathered there to watch the game.

They’d each invited a guest, as later noted in a public disclosure filing that listed everyone’s names and workplaces. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a longtime Cowboys fan, was there too, but he was not noted to have brought a guest.

The 16th and final person on the guest list, Rebecca Lamorte, was described in the disclosure as “self-employed” and not designated as anybody’s plus-one. But she did not end up in the exclusive suite by chance, nor is she self-employed.

Lamorte serves as legislative and communications director for the Greater New York Laborers-Employers Cooperation & Education Trust, or LECET. She lobbies the New York legislature on behalf of building trades and construction unions and their contractors, which the cooperative represents.

And she has been romantically involved with Heastie, apparently since at least last November, according to a document obtained by New York Focus and an attorney representing her employer.

Heastie has been keeping the relationship quiet. His office has declined to acknowledge it publicly — or to describe what steps the powerful speaker has taken to avoid conflicts of interest.

“As the Speaker has said, he will never discuss his personal life,” Michael Whyland, a Heastie spokesperson, told New York Focus. “There are procedures in place to address potential conflicts of interest.”

Heastie’s office did not share the procedures, nor did it respond to a question about why Lamorte’s job title was misstated on the disclosure filing.

While Heastie avoids the matter in public, an attorney in his office did write a March 11 letter, obtained by New York Focus, outlining steps the speaker was said to have taken to avoid being lobbied by Lamorte’s organization. Lamorte used the letter this week, when she sought permission to keep lobbying the Assembly, according to her employer’s attorney.

Under state law, New York officials may not have any interest that substantially conflicts with their public service.

It’s not the first time that potential romantic conflicts of interest have come up among Albany leadership. Soon after Hochul became governor, she began facing media scrutiny over her husband’s high-ranking position at Delaware North, a major gaming and hospitality company with extensive business before state government. In response, Hochul publicly released a letter outlining her recusal policy and how she would avoid real or perceived conflicts. The letter stated that William Hochul had recused himself from business matters related to New York.

While some government watchdogs argued Hochul’s policy did not go far enough — the agreement was self-enforced, rather than through a third party — she went significantly further than Heastie.

By releasing the document, Hochul opened her later actions up for scrutiny against the agreements she’d made. Heastie, who holds enormous sway over what bills or budget items are passed by the Assembly, has not publicly acknowledged the relationship and declined to release his own conflict of interest policy.

Reached for comment, Dean Angelakos, LECET’s executive director, referred New York Focus to David Grandeau, the ethics compliance attorney for LECET and formerly the state’s top lobbying enforcement official.

Grandeau said that Lamorte made LECET “aware” that she was “seeing the speaker” within the last 30 to 45 days.

The relationship has likely been going on longer than that. Heastie and Lamorte attended the Bills game together almost three months ago, and the letter obtained by New York Focus states that the speaker’s conflict of interest policy was communicated to staff in November.

When Lamorte informed her employer about the relationship this year, she was “instructed not to lobby the Assembly” or Heastie, Grandeau said. He added that he is “not aware of any lobbying that she’s engaged in with the Assembly since we put that policy in place.”

State law prohibits a lobbyist from giving a gift to an elected official worth more than $15, but beyond that, there’s nothing that prevents them from having a romantic relationship with a public official, Grandeau said.

“There is language and there are opinions regarding what an elected official should do,” Grandeau said. “But obviously, we cannot control what the speaker may or may not have done.”

The letter from Heastie’s counsel, Rebecca Mudie, does not mention Lamorte. It notes that it was written in response to a “request for confirmation regarding the Speaker’s recusal from matters relating to the Mason Tenders’ District Council of Greater New York, including laborers locals 66, 78, 79 and 108, and/or the Greater New York LECET Fund.”

“The Speaker will not personally attend meetings with the aforementioned organizations,” Mudie wrote. She added that “senior staff will come to and advance a consensus decision to the Speaker for any matters specific or unique to such organizations.”

Lamorte did not respond to questions from New York Focus, including about whether she’d requested that Heastie’s counsel issue the letter. The document soon made its way to Lamorte’s attorney, who then sent it to Grandeau.

According to Grandeau, her attorney was asking: “If the speaker recuses, would you allow her to lobby the Assembly?”

Grandeau said that he would have to see a recusal first. “And now that I’ve seen what I guess they’re calling a recusal, it does not change my opinion — or my advice to the union — that she not lobby the Assembly,” he told New York Focus. “And I conveyed that to her attorney.”

LECET seeks to promote the use of unionized labor on New York construction projects and public support for those workers’ wages.

Lamorte is one of four LECET officials listed as lobbyists for the organization in a disclosure covering January and February. The organization reported lobbying various assemblymembers and state senators on a handful of bills over those two months, ranging from budget bills to a new prevailing wage requirement.

The organization lobbied in favor of a bill introduced by Assemblymember Harry Bronson, which would require the State University of New York to utilize project labor agreements for large-scale SUNY construction fund projects costing $3 million or more. Prevailing wage agreements promote the use of union labor.

That proposal was included in the Assembly’s one-house budget resolution, released Monday, which outlines the chamber’s negotiating position during budget talks with the governor. The State Senate also recommended the measure.

The disclosures do not state which lawmakers Lamorte personally lobbied, nor whether she lobbied assemblymembers. While the organization has reported lobbying individual assemblymembers in recent months, it has not disclosed lobbying Heastie or the speaker’s office.

As for the Buffalo Bills game in December, Empire State Development spokesperson Kristin Devoe told New York Focus after publication that Lamorte was listed as “self-employed” because she answered “self” on a form that asked which company she was representing. According to Devoe, Lamorte meant that she was attending the game in her personal capacity, not as a representative of her employer.

The filing stated that a “charitable donation was made for the value of the tickets” that were provided to Hochul, Peoples-Stokes, Jenkins, Heastie, Lamorte, and several others in the state-owned suite.

According to the disclosure filing, the hospitality suite was made available that day to the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, which used the suite to “develop relationships with companies in support of furthering economic development in the region.” But it mentioned no business executives from outside Western New York. Jenkins, a Queens-based lobbyist who attended with his wife, was Heastie’s college roommate.

Update: March 14, 2024This story has been updated to include responses to a question that Devoe, the Empire State Development spokesperson, answered after publication. Devoe added that Lamorte answered “yes” when asked whether she was a lobbyist with business before state government, but ESD did not publish that information. ESD declined to provide New York Focus with a copy of its form, citing concerns about personal information.

Chris Bragg is the Albany bureau chief at New York Focus. He has done investigative reporting on New York government and politics since 2009, most recently at The Buffalo News and Albany Times Union.
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