NYC Speakerstakes: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Melissa?

NYC Speakerstakes: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Melissa?

NYC Speakerstakes: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Melissa?

The press defends a helpless city against the terror that is Melissa Mark-Viverito.


The second-most-important election in this municipal campaign cycle has yet to occur—that’s the vote for City Council speaker, which has come down to a contest between two councilmembers from Manhattan: Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Dan Garodnick, who has the support of the press.

De Blasio’s campaigning for Mark-Viverito—he reportedly did some high-pressure phone lobbying and made some promises along the way—was something the city hadn’t seen in at least a generation. And given how harshly de Blasio criticized former Speaker Christine Quinn for working closely with former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, it looked pretty hypocritical for de Blasio to hand-pick the speaker he has to work with.

But if de Blasio’s offensive on Mark-Viverito’s behalf was unprecedented and a tad unseemly, the counterstrike by the mainstream media have more than made up for it.

There have been articles about an opponent who claimed Mark-Viverito put a curse on her building.

Another noted that the councilwoman had inherited a lot of property from her dad, yet still enjoyed a tax benefit on a building she bought before she inherited the property from her dad—in other words, a tax benefit for which she was completely qualified when she was 29. (This was a story that Mark-Viverito’s opponents had shopped around during her re-election campaign this fall, but found no takers.)

A piece this weekend talked about her role in a zoning dispute, where she supported a carve-out for a healthcare facility that provided a lot of jobs to the neighborhood—and then donated to her campaign. According to The New York Times, this episode displayed Mark-Viverito’s “polarizing style.”

Some of the questions about Mark-Viverito are legit, and it’s appropriate to shine light on the people vying to be the second-most-powerful person in New York. But the light has been shining pretty exclusively on one candidate. The Times did run a story today about Garodnick, but it was sharply different in tone from its Mark-Viverito coverage. Headlined “In Bid to Be Council Speaker, a Tenants’ Champion Fights an Uphill Battle, with the subhead “Daniel R. Garodnick is challenging Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is backed by a City Council majority, powerful labor unions and Mayor Bill de Blasio,” it tells the Cinderella story about the long-odds fight of a former securities lawyer with the backing of most of the city’s Democratic bosses just trying to get a fair shot at the title.

Left unmentioned in any of this coverage that emphasizes Mark-Viverito’s union ties and campaign contributions and Garodnick’s role as a tenant advocate is that fact that in the three council races each has run, Mark-Viverito has received sixteen donations at the maximum level of $2,750, for a grand total of $44,000, with the money coming from the unions for healthcare workers, hotel employees and teachers, while Garodnick has received 142 of those maximum donations for a total of $457,900, with the money coming from the finance industry and real estate.

The nearly exclusive attention on Mark-Viverito is novel. Eight years ago, when de Blasio and Quinn were battling behind the scenes for the speakership, neither the Times nor the Daily News covered it deeply. Each ran a horse-race article or two, though the Times did single out de Blasio for supporting changes to campaign finance and term limits laws. Four years before that, the speaker race between Angel Rodriguez and Gifford Miller received scant coverage, except a piece or two that noted Rodriguez’s potential to be the first citywide Latino official.

Rodriguez lost to Miller. Now Mark-Viverito eyes the same prize, and her supporters suspect her ethnic background is why she’s been targeted. More likely it betrays a deep antipathy towards de Blasio in the press, where some feel he used demagoguery to beat Quinn, others worry he’ll embarrass the left by poor management, some distrust the way he’s remade himself from political inside to social critic and more than a few oppose him ideologically.

A clarification: Garodnick raised $170,500 in 76 donations at the City Council race maximum of $2,750 and an additional $287,400 from 66 donations at higher levels from his aborted campaign for comptroller in the last cycle.

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