Murray Hill — The seven Democratic City Council members who say they have what it takes to be the next speaker made their case to a few hundred die-hard politicos at Baruch College on Wednesday.
With Bill de Blasio set to take the city on a leftward turn next year, the speaker council candidates sought to demonstrate their independence while also promising to partner with the mayor-elect on his ambitious liberal agenda.
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem in Manhattan and Mott Haven in the Bronx and is considered by some to be the frontrunner in the speakers race, said she remained “proud to be the first council member to endorse mayor-elect de Blasio” and that she believed in the “mandate” he received in his blowout election win.
“In order to move the aggressive and very ambitious agenda, which I’m sure a lot us believe in, we have to be a copartner [with the mayor],” Mark-Viverito said.
She went to say that “if the body decides that we want to move in a different direction [than the mayor], then I’m going to stand up and defend what it is that the body wants.”
Bronx Councilwoman Annabel Palma also referred to de Blasio’s victory as a mandate and a call for action before promising to be a force of resistance when necessary.
“I’m also prepared to be that check and balance that the administration needs,” she said.
Manhattan Councilman Dan Garodnick promised to have a respectful relationship with the mayor-elect, despite inevitable disagreements. “[W]e are going to make sure that we are working together cooperatively and as an appropriate check [to the mayor], as was anticipated under the city charter,” he said.
Not every candidate highlighted the opposition he or she promised to provide to the mayor.
Queens City Councilman Mark Weprin, who is one of only two candidates to have spoken with the mayor-elect about the position, along with Mark-Viverito, said, "[De Blasio's] going to be an outer-borough mayor. Mark Weprin will be an outer-borough speaker. He’s going to be the first public school parent who’s a mayor. Mark Weprin will be the first public school parent to be a speaker.”
Weprin went down the list, from their shared progressive credentials to the possibility that both could be in their positions for the next eight years.
“The mayor knowing that he’s going to have to look at this ugly mug for eight full years will make us a much stronger speaker,” Weprin said.
Few sparks flew between the candidates during the two-hour political discussion. But clear lines of disagreement and differences segmented the speaker hopefuls throughout the night.
Manhattan Councilwoman Inez Dickens, a close ally of the current speaker Christine Quinn, heard from the crowd and her colleagues when she said she wasn’t aware the member items had been used to punish dissenting members under the current regime.
“I know what it’s like to be punished. I was punished. My community suffered,” Palma told the crowd after Dickens’ remarks.
The candidates also clashed over some of the efforts of the council’s Progressive Caucus, mainly the push for rules reform announced last month, which include making the member item process more equitable and giving members the power to push legislation through the council.
Palma and her colleague from the Bronx, James Vacca, both said they hadn’t joined the Progressive’s in signing on to the legislation.
“I don’t sign on to blank checks,” Vacca said of the reforms.
Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, who was heavily involved in the reforms, defended the efforts, saying the rules would strengthen the council without eviscerating the powers of the speaker.
“There needs to be a speaker strong enough to keep the body independent,” he said.
“That package of reforms, it wasn’t it a blank check. It was something I worked very hard on,” Williams said, claiming additional reform ideas were taken out of the final proposal because they would make the speaker “too weak.”
Doug Muzzio hosted the event, which was sponsored by the good government group Citizens Union. The 51 members of the council will vote to select the new speaker in early January.