The most important election that the voters don’t get to vote on—the selection of New York’s next City Council Speaker—is the consuming buzz in New York’s political world on Wednesday.
Politicker reported yesterday that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has been making calls to returning and incoming councilmembers lobbying for Manhattan-Bronx Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has the support of the Progressive Caucus—which, according to the same report, claimed to have the 26 votes necessary to elect her head of the fifty-one-member council.
Politicker also quoted unnamed insiders saying that de Blasio’s overt advocacy for Mark-Viverito had infuriated some of the county Democratic chairmen, who have traditionally held sway over the picks for Council leadership.
City & State reported today that those county chairman have coalesced around Manhattan Councilmember Daniel Garodnick to be the next speaker—and that they claim to have enough votes.
To most members of my huge national audience, and even among some of my millions or dozens of readers in the city, all this gamesmanship over a legislative post may seem like a distraction (if a welcome one; how else are we to pass the time before we can get to Anchorman 2?).
But it’s vital to de Blasio’s agenda that he get a speaker he can work with. He saw evidence of this during his own time in the Council. In de Blasio’s first term, from 2002 to 2005, Speaker Gifford Miller often resisted Bloomberg, irritating the easily irritated billionaire. In de Blasio’s second Council stint, from 2006 to 2009, the more accommodating Quinn made life easier for the mayor—no more so than when Bloomberg asked to overturn the term limits law.
While New York has a strong mayor system, the Council has a huge role to play on the budget and decisions about zoning and other land-use policies. The speaker has the ability to tightly control that role, by naming committee chairs, deciding which bills get hearings and which can come up for votes and apportioning discretionary funding for the members to spend, with favored colleagues getting lots of dough and squeaky wheels getting little. In fact, one of the top items on the Progressive Caucus wish list is to reform the Council rules and reduce the power of the speaker—but that probably won’t happen unless one of their own gets the chair.