By Adam Kramer and Betsy Scheinbart
When term limits kicked in and it became apparent that the entire Queens City Council delegation would be forced out, there were rumblings that the borough’s political clout would be lost.
But after the recent appointments of city council committee chairmanships, it looks as if the borough did not forfeit power but in fact gained strength despite the loss of the speaker post held by Peter Vallone (D-Astoria). Queens was awarded 11 committee chairmanships and two subcommittee leadership posts by newly elected Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan).
Queens Democratic Party boss Tom Manton was able to use his strong influence over the party to put together a coalition of the borough’s 13 Democratic council members and pledge support for Miller in his battle for the speakership with the early favorite, City Councilman Angel Rodriguez (D-Brooklyn).
“Queens has a well-organized and strong county organization,” said former City Council Deputy Majority Leader Archie Spigner (D-St. Albans).
The committee chairmen hold power because they determine the agenda for the committees.
Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) gained control of the Finance Committee, which ties with Land Use for the highest stipend at $18,000. Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) took the reins of the Land Use Committee.
Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) took over the chairmanship of Rules, Privileges and Elections Committee earlier this month and also gained the position of majority whip last week.
“Even though three or four insurgents won a couple of the seats — Sanders, Goia and Jennings — Manton was able to bring them into the fold and saw to it that they got substantive chairs, which is to his credit,” Spigner said.
City council members Eric Gioia (D-Woodside), Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica) and James Sanders (D-Laurelton) did not receive the endorsement of the Democratic Party during the primary.
Gioia was chosen to lead the council’s new Oversight and Investigations Committee, while Jennings now heads the Civil Service and Labor Committee and Sanders took over the Economic Development Committee.
The leadership of the county organization under Manton is very strong, Spigner said, and all of the party members work well together, which is to the party’s advantage. He said Queens, unlike Brooklyn and the Bronx, stood together and did not succumb to internal division.
Several key committees formerly led by Brooklyn and Bronx council members are now controlled by Queens.
To be elected speaker of the City Council, a candidate needs to capture a majority of the 51 votes.
When it came down to choosing the next speaker, Spigner said, there was a loose understanding between Manton and the head of the Brooklyn Democratic party to back Rodriguez. But Miller had done “missionary work” in the borough and received support from some of the Queens candidates.
“It was an easy call for him,” Spigner said. “It is a clear fact Tom Manton had 14 votes, which made him the engine that drove the process.”
Councilman Dennis Gallagher (D-Middle Village), the borough’s sole Republican, voted with Democrats.
Evan Stavisky, an adviser to Miller in his speaker race, said Miller had a longstanding relationship with many in the Queens delegation.
“He worked hard to get them elected and they worked hard to elect him,” Stavisky said.
Spigner said “without a doubt” the borough will benefit from all of its chairmanships He pointed out that after a “reasonable distribution of the resources” during budget negotiations it boils down to connections and knowledge of the process.
“Up to a point it is fairly objective, but then it reverts to who has the chairmanships, who the speaker likes and other aspects of the budget [distribution] come onto play,” Spigner said.
The following Queens council members also received leadership posts: Joseph Addabbo (D-Ozone Park) took over Parks and Recreation, James Gennaro (D-Jamaica Estates) got Environmental Protection, John Liu (D-Flushing) was set to head Transportation and Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights) received Standards and Ethics. Councilman Tony Avella (D-Whitestone) was appointed chairman of Zoning and Franchises, a land use subcommittee, and Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) took over the public safety’s subcommittee on Crime and Substance abuse. Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) is heading the Public Safety Committee.
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at [email protected] or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.