After months of political jockeying, Manhattan Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito was elected unanimously as the next City Council speaker Wednesday, becoming the first Hispanic official to hold the city’s second-most-powerful political post.
Ms. Mark-Viverito’s victory came after her last remaining opponent in the contest, Manhattan Councilman Daniel Garodnick, conceded just minutes before the vote of the body’s 51 members. Her election was a victory for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who pushed hard to install a close political ally and early supporter. She will serve a four-year term as speaker; term limits prevent her from seeking re-election to the council in 2017.
Until Wednesday morning, a number of council members from the Queens and Bronx Democratic organizations, who traditionally have been the major players in picking a speaker, were sticking behind Mr. Garodnick, who had the support of 20 of the council’s 51 members. Twenty-six are needed to elect a speaker.
In his concession speech on the council floor, Mr. Garodnick nodded toward unifying the fractured body while arguing that the council should maintain independence from Mr. de Blasio. He called for a council that “works as a strong and responsible counterbalance to the mayor” and resolved to mend any rifts that had emerged. Mr. Garodnick and Ms. Mark-Viverito then hugged. A number of other council members also pledged unity, which would help both Mr. de Blasio and Ms. Mark-Viverito move their agendas.
For her part, Ms. Mark-Viverito also praised Mr. Garodnick, said she would hold Mr. de Blasio accountable, and promised a more democratically run City Council.
“Over the past few months, I’ve laid out for all of you my vision for a speakership that is open, inclusive and transparent,” she said. “A leadership style that allows all voices to be at the table, helping to shape the direction we take as a legislative body; a leadership style that puts the will of the members and the needs of their constituents before the ambitions of a speaker.”
During the eight-year tenure of Speaker Christine Quinn, many council members chafed at the centralized power that lay in the speaker’s office. However, some have noted that a speaker who keeps her members in line can better negotiate on the council’s behalf with the mayor.
A major winner in the race was the Progressive Caucus, a group of some 22 council members closely aligned with the labor-backed Working Families Party, which has steadily gained electoral power in recent years. Ms. Mark-Viverito is arguably the most liberal member of the City Council and will be a close ally of labor and Mr. de Blasio on moving progressive legislation that was bottled up during the 12-year mayoralty of Michael Bloomberg and the eight-year speakership of Ms. Quinn. Likely agenda items in the near future include an expansion of mandatory paid sick leave to cover all city businesses and a ban on horse carriages in Central Park.
“For the first time in a long time, the people of New York City have true advocates across the board in city government,” said Central Labor Council president Vincent Alvarez, referring also to the public advocate and city comptroller’s office, held by Letitia James and Scott Stringer, respectively. “While we believe that these branches will hold one another accountable, we also believe that the common goals of reducing income disparities and improving conditions for all working people are so deeply ingrained in these newly elected officials that New York City as a whole cannot help but benefit.”
Ms. Mark-Viverito’s candidacy was initially met with skepticism by political insiders because of her liberal record and a reputation for having cold personal relationships with a number of council members. She also faced persistent negative tabloid headlines, and in recent days the city’s major papers endorsed Mr. Garodnick’s candidacy.
But Mr. de Blasio’s decision to individually lobby on her behalf eventually moved the political calculus in her favor. As reported by Crain’s, the political maneuver that gave Ms. Mark-Viverito an insurmountable number of votes came in December, when Mr. de Blasio swayed Brooklyn Democratic chairman Frank Seddio and his delegation to back her (source).