You might see conservatives in New York City buying one-way, outbound LIRR tickets or double-barricading their doors this morning. Such is the panic in their ranks after the City Council on Wednesday elected East Harlem City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito to be its next speaker. “She’s in,” writes Andrea Peyser in the New York Post. “We’re toast.”
Mark-Viverito got the council’s unanimous support, despite an unusually public and pretty intense weeks-long battle involving her chief rival, Dan Garodnick, the county Democratic chairs, the new mayor, unions, the Council’s Progressive Caucus and an avalanche of bad press for her. Her win is seen as a major coup for Bill de Blasio, who now has a strong ally on the other side of City Hall—maybe even a stronger one than Mike Bloomberg had in Christine Quinn.
But because Mark-Viverito’s ascendance is in tandem with that of the Progressive Caucus, the way power is wielded on the east side of City Hall is subject to change.
Years before her close alliance with Bloomberg was the focus of campaign-trail complaints, Quinn’s use of the speaker’s levers of power drew grumbling from other councilmembers. The ruthless use of discretionary funds (the money members are allowed to dole out in their districts) and leadership positions to reward supporters and punish dissenters, the refusal to bring measures with overwhelming support up for council votes, the blocking of mere hearings for bills she didn’t like—even her control of the lawyers who turned policy ideas into legislative language for councilmembers—were seen as anti-democratic. And the same was said of previous council leaders.
Thus, one of the many planks of the Progressive Caucus’s agenda calls to scale back at least some of those speaker powers. It seeks to “reform the New York City Council rules,” namely to
—Take the politics out of “Member Items” by giving all members an equal amount or amounts determined by need-based formulas and insisting on full transparency.
—Ensure timely consideration of legislation or oversight supported by a majority of Council Members.…
—Dramatically expand participation by New Yorkers in government processes through innovative tools such as participatory budgeting and new technologies to integrate customer service, data for City decision-making, and meaningful and inclusive public input.
—Implement recommendations from the Campaign for Community-Based Planning to achieve a better balance of comprehensive and community-based planning, empower and reform community boards, and more genuinely engage communities in the planning process.
(The latter two points aren’t tied to changes in the speaker’s power but could change the way the council wields some of its budget and land-use powers.)