Lobbyist Dating Carl Heastie Cleared to Return to Assembly — and Ethics Attorney Quits

As the relationship was coming to light, Heastie returned $5,000 in campaign cash to a labor group from which he’d recused himself.

Chris Bragg   ·   March 26, 2024
New York State Assembly speaker Carl Heastie stands in front of a tile wall with TV microphones.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie discusses last year's state budget in Albany on May 2, 2023. | Hans Pennink / ZUMA Press Wire

The lobbyist dating New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has been cleared to return to work before the Assembly, New York Focus has learned.

A spokesperson for the Greater New York Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, or LECET, told New York Focus that after being barred on the advice of its former ethics lawyer, legislative and communications director Rebecca Lamorte can resume lobbying the Assembly — including Heastie’s staff — but not the speaker himself. After Lamorte was cleared to return, the former ethics attorney quit.

When Lamorte’s employer confirmed the romantic relationship to New York Focus two weeks ago, Heastie was upset. The organization has taken steps to mend fences.

On March 13, the day before the news broke, Heastie called a top official within LECET’s labor arm to return a $5,000 campaign donation from a fundraiser in late February. The labor arm, the Mason Tenders’ District Council, had been barred from meeting with Heastie since November, according to a private letter drafted by the Assembly majority’s counsel.

“The Assembly speaker and I had a brief discussion by phone,” Michael McGuire, director of Mason Tenders’ District Council Political Action Committee, told New York Focus in a statement. “I understand and respect his decision to return a recent donation from our PAC. That decision is consistent with his current recusal policy on lobbying that covers our organization.”

In a March 11 letter, the counsel to the Assembly majority stated that Heastie adopted a policy in November which bars him from meeting with or making decisions about organizations linked to LECET, including the Mason Tenders. Senior staff would “advance a consensus decision” to Heastie concerning “any matters specific or unique to such organizations,” the letter stated.

McGuire made the $5,000 donation while attending a February fundraiser for Heastie’s political action committee in Manhattan. He said that at the time, “I was not yet aware of the recusal policy.”

“The Assembly speaker was present,” McGuire said. “He and I said hello. That was it.”

A Heastie spokesperson confirmed that the Mason Tenders donated to the Speaker Heastie PAC on February 29, during the recusal period. The spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether the donation comported with the policy. The March letter, issued by the counsel to the Assembly majority, does not explicitly address attendance by the Mason Tenders or other organizations at campaign fundraisers.

McGuire emphasized to New York Focus that Heastie made no threats to his organization during their phone call — and that the brief encounter focused on returning the campaign donation. Still, the labor movement has since been sensitive to Heastie’s anger over the disclosure of the private relationship.

Two weeks ago, LECET executive director Dean Angelakos authorized David Grandeau, an ethics compliance attorney working for the organization, to confirm the romantic relationship to New York Focus. Grandeau told New York Focus that having seen “what I guess they’re calling a recusal” letter from Heastie, he advised the union “that [Lamorte] not lobby the Assembly.”

Now, Angelakos is out, as the New York Post reported. With Lamorte allowed to resume lobbying the Assembly, New York Focus asked Grandeau for comment about LECET’s new leadership rejecting his advice. Two days later, Grandeau told New York Focus that he had resigned as LECET’s outside ethics counsel.

“I was not fired,” Grandeau said. “Clients come and go, and in this case, it was my decision, not theirs.”

For their part, the group’s current leadership has been displeased with Grandeau, according to a LECET spokesperson, over his role in disclosing Lamorte’s relationship and other matters related to the group’s lobbying filings.

LECET seeks to promote the use of unionized labor on New York construction projects and public support for those workers’ wages, matters that regularly come before the legislature.

For a time, Lamorte did not tell her employer about her relationship with the speaker. On January 8, she met with Heastie’s senior staff concerning LECET’s top priority bill, requiring “project labor agreements” to promote the use of union labor at major State University of New York construction projects, according to a LECET spokesperson.

In mid-March, that SUNY bill was included in the Assembly’s one-house budget resolution — the chamber’s proposal for the year’s state budget. (Heastie’s spokesperson said the measure was included at the request of the Assembly labor committee chair, Harry Bronson.) It was also included in the Senate’s resolution; it’s unclear whether Governor Kathy Hochul will agree to include the provision in the final budget.

Some time after the January 8 meeting, Lamorte told her boss, Angelakos, about the relationship with Heastie. At that point, Grandeau advised Angelakos that Lamorte should not lobby the Assembly, and she was barred from doing so.

Lamorte later sought a reversal of the policy. Heastie’s governmental counsel drafted the March 11 letter, and Lamorte’s attorney quickly provided it to Grandeau, who responded that Lamorte should remain barred from lobbying the Assembly.

On March 13, Angelakos directed a New York Focus inquiry about the relationship to Grandeau, who confirmed Heastie and Lamorte’s relationship, discussed the letter, and later provided a copy to New York Focus upon request. Later that day, Heastie called McGuire stating he would return the campaign donation.

Following the New York Focus article on March 14, Heastie was pressed by Capitol reporters about the relationship – and grew combative.

“I was very clear that protocols are in place and that’s all y’all need to be comfortable with,” Heastie said on March 18. “My life will never be in conflict with my job. I am never again — let me make that clear — addressing my personal life.”

Angelakos resigned; Lamorte was allowed to return to lobbying the Assembly; and Grandeau resigned.

“Dean Angelakos offered his resignation as executive director of LECET, and we accepted it. We wish him the best,” said Mike Hellstrom, co-chair of the Greater New York LECET. “Rebecca Lamorte will continue to be a member of our staff. She will remain our lobbyist in Albany. Protocols are in place and being followed so that she can continue her work for us. People in public service can do their jobs ethically while keeping their personal lives private.”

The Mason Tenders have for years sought to build a strong relationship with Heastie. Since 2014, the union’s political action committee has donated more than $120,000 to Heastie’s campaign or political action committee, including $23,000 last year.

A McGuire statement provided by a spokesperson initially said that, during their phone call, Heastie had said was returning “donations” from the Mason Tenders PAC. Heastie’s office told New York Focus he was only returning a single donation, and McGuire’s spokesperson later said he’d provided an incorrect statement because he had misheard McGuire.

Among other priorities, the Mason Tenders are pushing for legislation that would replace the 421-a developer tax break incentivizing the building of affordable housing in New York City.

Heastie has continued to refuse to publicly discuss the relationship or any steps he has taken to avoid a conflict of interest. While New York Focus published the private letter written by his attorney, Heastie himself has never made any recusal policy public.

Grandeau, who served as the state’s top lobbying enforcement official from 1995 to 2007, has since worked as a lobbying compliance attorney representing a number of Albany’s top interest groups. He said there is no ideal recusal policy, but Heastie’s would have been stronger if he had made it public and if it had stated that Heastie would not take any action related to Greater New York LECET and its affiliates.

“You know, Heastie never says he’s not going to act on anything in his recusal policy,” he said.

Update: March 26, 2024 — This story has been updated to note that a Mason Tenders spokesperson provided an erroneous statement referring to "donations," plural, because he had misheard McGuire, rather than McGuire having misspoken himself.

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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