By Betsy Scheinbart
City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) received the Council’s first committee chairmanship last week, taking the reins of the Rules, Privileges and Elections Committee, which quickly met and approved eight changes to city council rules.
Comrie, the longtime chief aide to former Council Deputy Majority Leader Archie Spigner, is one of 38 council freshman in the 51-member body — the first class to take their seats in City Hall under term limits.
Comrie secured his new position right after Councilman A. Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) was elected speaker Jan. 9. Miller nominated Comrie to the post and then he was elected by the entire council body.
“It came up after working with the speaker and helping him get his position and his taking the pulse of how most of the members reacted to me,” Comrie said. “He thought I would be the best person in that position.”
Queens council members Tony Avella (D-Whitestone), Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) and David Weprin (D-Hollis) were also appointed to the rules committee.
The committee approved eight changes proposed by the Fresh Democracy Council, a group that Councilman Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica) formed in an effort to spread some of the speaker’s power to the committee chairmen, ensure public access to council actions and provide equitable allocations of money and staff to each council member.
Avella, Katz and Weprin, who were in the early running for the speakership, are now in line for possible committee leadership jobs.
Miller had 15-minute meetings with each of his 50 colleagues last Thursday and Friday “to go over their wants, needs and desires,” said Fred Baldassaro, a spokesman for the Council. Miller deliberated over the weekend and was expected to announce his nominees for the other committee leaders Wednesday, Baldassaro said.
It has long been rumored that Weprin could head the coveted Finance Committee and Katz has been mentioned as a possible Land Use Committee chairwoman.
Although Queens lost the speakership this year when longtime Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) was forced out of office by term limits, Comrie remained confident that Queens would be well-represented in the Council.
“The Queens delegation is a strong delegation with a lot of talent, and I think that you will see that our talent will be well utilized,” Comrie said.
Although Jennings was not nominated to the rules committee, the freshman said he was pleased that his colleagues approved the rule changes he had advocated.
“Thomas Jefferson would have been proud of me because democracy is alive in the City Council,” Jennings said.
One of the more popular rule changes was an amendment to empower each committee leader to hire at least one full-time staff person.
Another change keeps pace with 21st-century technology, requiring the speaker’s office to post the text and status of proposed local laws, resolutions, committee reports and voting records on the Internet.
The council web site is not yet fully updated, but remains under construction at www.council.nyc.ny.us.
Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at [email protected] or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.