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Brooklyn Councilmen Gear Up to Break Manhattan's Grip on Speaker Seat

By Jeff Mays | February 8, 2017 3:19pm
 Brooklyn is jockeying to have a member of its delegation replace Melissa Mark-Viverito as City Council Speaker.
Brooklyn is jockeying to have a member of its delegation replace Melissa Mark-Viverito as City Council Speaker.
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William Alatriste/New York City Council

CITY HALL — If Brooklyn City Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr. were elected as the next speaker of the City Council, he'd check off a number of firsts.

He'd be the first African American to hold that position, and, by virtue of his 6-foot-10 frame, be the tallest person ever to be speaker.

He would also be the first council member from Brooklyn to hold the post.

Although Brooklyn has 16 of the 51 City Council members, the largest delegation among the five boroughs, it has been shut out of the speakership. That's because the Queens Council delegation has traditionally aligned with The Bronx to choose a speaker from Manhattan.

But Cornegy and other members from Brooklyn are looking to change that once Melissa Mark-Viverito is term-limited out of the job this year. Council members elect their speaker, and the selection involves a lot of wrangling and lobbying that has already begun months before the September primary and November general election.

"Anyone from the Brooklyn delegation should not be taken lightly," said Councilman Mark Treyger, co-chair of the delegation. "Brooklyn, being the biggest borough [in population], has a large role to play."

The city's political power base has been shifting more and more to Central Brooklyn. Mayor Bill de Blasio is from there, as are such rising political stars as Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Public Advocate Letitia James, currently the only woman to hold citywide office and the first black woman to do so.

"There is every reason for Brooklyn to take the strong position, pick a candidate and start pushing that candidate because you want a seat at the table," said Evan Thies, co-founder of political consulting firm Pythia Public Affairs.

Cornegy, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, acknowledged he was interested in the job.

"The largest Democratic voting base is in Brooklyn. The mayor is from Brooklyn. The public Advocate is from Brooklyn," he said. "Brooklyn is the new de facto area for political dominance. I believe I have the political acumen to be at the table."

Flatbush Councilman Jumaane Williams is also mentioned as a potential speaker candidate. He said he wants the job.

"I'm a Brooklyn-head. I'm proud I'm from Brooklyn and I'd be even more proud to be the first person from Brooklyn to have the position," Williams said. "But clearly the position has to have the purview of all of its members and all of the boroughs."

With 10 months until the general election, the race to replace Mark-Viverito is already heating up.

Among the other names mentioned are Ydanis Rodriguez from Washington Heights, Mark Levine of Harlem, Corey Johnson of Chelsea, and Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens.

Campaign finance reports show that Ferreras-Copeland has raised more than $325,000 so far, including almost $78,000 in the last six month period, while Levine has raised $211,000 so far including more than $44,000 in the last six months. Rodriguez has raised just about $69,000 so far with almost $24,000 in the last six months.

Johnson has raised $291,000, and more than $27,000 in the last six months, while Williams raised $157,000 and just over $31,000 in the last six months. Cornegy has yet to file his financial disclosure forms. Van Bramer, the majority leader, had the most impressive fundraising effort, raising more than $400,000, including $106,000 in the last six months.

"It's important that a serious candidate for speaker be able to support their colleagues' elections, but it's not nearly as important as institutional political support. The real inside game has been going on for a while now," said Thies.

Van Bramer said he "has been putting his name forward" and welcomes his colleagues to do the same.

"The more the merrier in terms of a Brooklyn candidate," said Van Bramer. "We've got a lot of talented people and all of them should put themselves forward and share their ideas and thoughts."

Treyger said fundraising at this early stage won't knock candidates out of contention.

"That's the politics part. I want to see your full body of work. Have you gotten anything done?" said Treyger. "And never underestimate Brooklyn."