- According to an extensive City & State report on the City Council Speaker race, all candidates are groveling before the Queens County Democratic Party Chairman, Rep. Joseph Crowley (NY-14), as his support may line up most or all of the Queens and Bronx City Council delegations and make victory highly likely. While the Progressive Caucus was able to break the tradition of individual county party leaders selecting a Speaker in 2014, their deal-making power has been significantly diluted in this cycle as 7 of the 8 candidates are already members of the Caucus.
- Governor Cuomo and New Jersey Governor-elect Phil Murphy may end up feuding on major policy issues, as Murphy campaigned on progressive stances like taxing the rich and legalizing marijuana that could humiliate Cuomo as he attempts to tack left ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
- NY State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-83, Bronx) acknowledged the need for a long-term plan to fund the MTA, but would not commit to any details.
- The FBI is investigating Gov. Cuomo for hiring practices aimed at disguising the expense of the Governor’s Executive Chamber.
- State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is prosecuting the Rensselaer District Attorney for covering up evidence in a police shooting.
- An agreement has been reached between community groups and Mayor de Blasio over the controversial redevelopment of the Broadway Triangle. The development which will now give preference for its affordable units to a larger swath of residents of Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy, rather than just the largely Hasidic community board as was originally proposed, and will include funding for legal services support for neighborhood residents.
- Last week, community activists were ejected from City Hall while attending the final City Council vote to approve the Bedford Union Armory deal. Facing criticism from the balcony, Public Advocate Tish James ordered all non-Council staff to be cleared from the meeting, including press.
- On Thursday, City Council Members introduced a series of bills aimed at exposing sexual misconduct within the City Council, city agencies, and some organizations that receive City funds.
- US Congresswoman Yvette Clark (D-9, Crown Heights) will face a primary challenge in 2018 from Adem Bunkeddeko, who will focus on housing issues.
- Mayor de Blasio is holding a campaign fundraiser in Iowa this month, where the identity of the donors is being kept secret.
In-Depth: The Race for City Council Speaker
In the New York City political landscape, the City Council Speaker is the second most important elected official. As the leader of the New York City Council, the Speaker is the main check on the Mayor’s power. For example, the Council can vote to override the Mayor’s decision to veto legislation and turn a formerly rejected bill into a law.
As head of a 51-person Council, the Speaker balances an $8 billion dollar budget, leads urban planning and land use for the five boroughs, and ushers legislation into law. The Speaker also oversees committee chairman positions, as well as other Council jobs. Most significantly, the Speakership is a highly visible avenue for greater political ascension; many former speakers have run for Mayor.
As of the 2017 elections, the Council is made of 47 Democrats and only 4 Republicans. Given the dominance of the Democratic Party, the Speaker wields immense power by choosing what legislation to bring to the floor. For example, the recent repeal of the antiquated Cabaret Law, which made dancing illegal in New York venues without a tedious and expensive license, had almost unanimous support on the Council well before finally being brought to a vote. Right now, the Right to Know Act, a legislative package that would demand increased NYPD transparency and stronger protection of civil rights, is being similarly held up.
The Speaker race is an internal contest among the Council Members themselves, with a simple majority vote to decide the winner. Traditionally, support has been cultivated via borough representation, Council caucuses, and perhaps most importantly, through intense political allegiances, coalitions, and backroom deal-making.
Outgoing Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito rose to the Speakership in 2014 through an unprecedented victory that hinged on circumventing a traditional Bronx and Queens-based Council alliance.
Previous speakers, such as Gifford Miller (2002-2005) and Christine Quinn (2006-2013), have been crowned by securing votes from the Bronx and Queens, the two most organized borough voting blocs in the Council. Historically, both Manhattan and Brooklyn have been more factionalized, and Staten Island has been a non-factor, having only three members (two of which are Republicans). Mark-Viverito sidestepped those blocs by securing other Progressive Caucus Council Member votes with the highly publicized endorsement from Mayor de Blasio.
However, Mark-Viverito’s descension has been fraught with controversy—namely, for potentially abusing her Speaker power in her last weeks.
Although the City Council can overrule party recommendations for nominations to the Board of Elections, the Manhattan Democratic party is suing Mark-Viverito for such a recommendation in favor of her friend, environmental lawyer Andy Praschak.
Also, as recently as Monday, the Speaker banned all press from the eastern end of the City Hall building—breaking a decades-long open door media policy and drawing the ire of local press. The ban was purportedly intended to keep Council matters, especially transitional decisions, more private. On Tuesday, the Speaker reversed a portion of the ban.
Eight Council Members are fiercely jockeying to be Mark-Viverito’s successor, now that she is leaving the Council due to term-limits.The eight current candidates are:
- Corey Johnson from Manhattan’s District 3 (Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Upper West Side).
- Mark Levine of Manhattan’s District 7 (Morningside Heights, Washington Heights, West Harlem).
- Donovan Richards Jr. of Queen’s 31st District (Far Rockaway, Jamaica, South Ozone Park).
- Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan’s District 10 (Marble Hill, Inwood, Washington Heights).
- Ritchie Torres from the Bronx’s District 15 (Fordham, Belmont, Bedford Park).
- Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens’ District 26 (Astoria, Sunnyside, Long Island City). He is the outgoing Majority Leader, which is the second highest ranked Council Member.
- Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn’s 45th District (Flatbush, Canarsie, Midwood). Although occasionally touted as a further-left voice within the Progressive Caucus, he has had to clarify his positions on same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
- Robert Cornegy Jr of Brooklyn’s District 36 (Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights). The only candidate not in the Progressive Caucus.
What’s striking about this election is the way it fractured existing caucuses and presumptive voting blocs—seven candidates belong to the Progressive Caucus, three to the LGBT Caucus, and five are in the Black, Latino/a, and Asian Caucus. Most notable is the splintering of the Progressive Caucus, the once-unified front that gave Mark-Viverito her victory in 2014.
Naturally, identity politics is key for the second most powerful political figure representing New York City’s richly diverse populace. The possibility of another white male leader (along with Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman), especially with the shrinking number of women on the Council, has been a main point of contention, especially since there has never been an African-American Speaker before.
The candidates have been heavily emphasizing each of their intersectional identities as further qualifications for the next four years. Five are black, two are Latino, and three are gay. Other factors mentioned are being multilingual community leaders, products of the NYC public school system, as well as overcoming hardships such as addiction, homelessness, and learning disabilities.
Each candidate has raised and donated tens of thousands to various Council colleagues’ campaigns, but the frontrunners are thought to be Levine and Johnson—which would align with a historical pattern of Manhattan speakers being elected as a compromise between the Queens and Bronx voting blocs. Johnson is considered an especially prominent contender, since he has been openly politicking and pushing for the coveted role for more than two years.
Seven labor unions have united to back three candidates, Richards, Levine, and the youngest Councilman, Torres. Interestingly, Mayor de Blasio’s endorsement, so important for Mark-Viverito, could potentially be a negative for this election, due to weakening public support—and technically, as the tempering force to mayoral power, such endorsements are not traditionally part of the race. Neither de Blasio nor Mark-Viverito have issued an endorsement, but they are rumored to support Levine.
Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries has publicly given his blessings to Cornegy and Johnson. However, all eyes are on heavyweight Representative Joe Crowley (NY-14)—the Congressman and Chairman of the Queens Democratic Party will hold sway over the 14 Queens council votes, which in turn will influence the traditional allied 8 Bronx votes.
In this intense political chess game, the moving pieces are relationships, coalitions, and favors. Come January 3, voted within the Council chambers, New York City will see who emerges king amongst the rooks and bishops.