Melissa Mark-Viverito Becomes First Latina Speaker After Rival Concedes

By Colby Hamilton on January 8, 2014 10:38am | Updated on January 8, 2014 3:16pm

 City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito giving her remarks after being elected by her colleagues as the new leader of the chamber on January 8, 2014.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito giving her remarks after being elected by her colleagues as the new leader of the chamber on January 8, 2014.
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DNAinfo/Colby Hamilton

CIVIC CENTER — City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito was elected the new Speaker of the New York City Council on Wednesday in a unanimous vote, making her the first Latina to achieve the post and putting to rest a sometimes bitter battle over the position.

Her chief opponent, Daniel Garodnick, conceded his bid after entering the council chambers, where he approached Mark-Viverito, hugged her, and told her "congratulations," drawing applause from the membership.

Garodnick had the backing of the Bronx and Queens Democratic Party leaders, the traditional powerbrokers during the speaker’s race, and had amassed support from 20 council members.

Mark-Viverito, who was elected speaker with a 51-0 vote, had the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio and 30 members of the City Council heading into the vote.

On the floor of the chamber after being elected, Mark-Viverito promised to bring the council together as a body to work towards addressing social justice reforms.

"We unite for a more equal and just New York where everyone, no matter what borough you are from, what neighborhood you were raised in or who your parents were, has equal opportunities," she said.

She also vowed to make her speakership one 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."

Mark-Viverito nodded to her historic election as the first Latino Speaker of the council, adding that she hoped "that as young Latinas and Latinos are witnessing this moment, they are able to dream that much bigger and are inspired to work that much harder, because we have broken through one more barrier."

Under the deal that Mark-Viverito struck to earn unanimous backing, she will allow the counties to keep their designated committee chairmanships instead of cleaning house and appointing her own, a sign that the new speaker is looking to make nice with her recent opponents, sources said. The deal also keeps the current council office staff intact, rewarding county leaders, who typically dole out the spots as patronage, sources said.

 City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on the floor of the council's chambers during the rollcall vote confirming her as the first Latina speaker on January 8, 2014.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on the floor of the council's chambers during the rollcall vote confirming her as the first Latina speaker on January 8, 2014.
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DNAinfo/Colby Hamilton

However, top committee chairmanships are still expected to go to those who initially backed Mark-Viverito, sources said.

Garodnick released a statement Wednesday that he looked "forward to working with Speaker Mark-Viverito and to helping her to ensure that we can deliver a sound and responsible government for all New Yorkers." He added that she is a "smart and committed public servant."

In a nod to the political battle that led up to the vote, Garodnick said he intended to back Mark-Viverito and her goals, vowing, "I will do my part to resolve any rifts this process may have caused among our colleagues, and am here to take any steps necessary to help move forward together."

Mark-Viverito had come under fire for her ties to de Blasio as well as for a recent report in the Daily News that she failed to disclose rental income from a Harlem apartment building she owns. Mark-Viverito was seen by some of her colleagues as a divisive figure, whose strong liberal positions rubbed council members the wrong way. As her campaign for speaker proceeded, opponents to her candidacy coalesced around Garodnick as the best alternative.

Early on, the council’s Progressive Caucus — of which Mark-Viverito is a co-leader — sought to play a leading role in deciding the next council leader. With their labor union allies, members made a hard push for Mark-Viverito immediately after the general election in November.

But it was de Blasio, who made calls on behalf of Mark-Viverito's candidacy, who ultimately solidified her bloc of votes. The new mayor’s decision to get so heavily involved in the leadership struggle was considered by some to be overstepping his bounds, given that the speaker's relationship with a sitting mayor is a complicated one.

For example, de Blasio himself attacked then-mayoral candidate Christine Quinn for having a too-cozy relationship with Michael Bloomberg before he trounced her in the Democratic primary.

De Blasio's tactics built up resentment among many in the council. One member described the mayor's push for Mark-Viverito as going to war with the county leaders and questioned if her victory will be overshadowed by the ill will de Blasio's created by intervening in a council decision. De Blasio downplayed his involvement, saying the decision was up to the council membership.

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