By Rich Bockmann
The 14 members of the borough’s City Council delegation fell in line with their colleagues Wednesday to unanimously elect East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) as the body’s speaker, putting an amicable end to the power struggle between Mark-Viverito’s progressive allies and the outerborough political machines that traditionally held sway in the selection.
In the weeks following the election of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who personally lobbied for Mark-Viverito, the field of candidates for the city’s second-most powerful position was whittled down to the East Harlem lawmaker and Councilman Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan).
Mark-Viverito enjoyed large support from the Council’s progressive caucus and Garodnick positioned himself as a more moderate voice who would more effectively serve as a check on the mayor’s authority.
In late December, it appeared Mark-Viverito would become the Council’s first female speaker of color when she released a list of 30 Council members and members-elect — four more than she needed — pledging their support, including six from Queens: Daniel Dromm, Julissa Ferreras, I. Daneek Miller, Donovan Richards, Eric Ulrich and Jimmy Van Bramer.
In the ensuing weeks, U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, reportedly pushed hard to try to flip Mark-Viverito supporters in favor of Garodnick, with speculation over whether or not the pledges would hold until the 11th hour.
But when it came time to nominate speaker candidates inside City Hall Wednesday, Garodnick bowed out of the race.
“In the spirit of strengthening the Council, which animated my candidacy from the start, I want to formally concede to the next speaker of the City Council, my colleague, Melissa Mark-Viverito,” he said.
As the city’s 51 other Council members one-by-one cast their vote for Mark-Viverito, those from Queens who had not originally pledged their support congratulated the new speaker.
Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) noted that his father, Peter Vallone Sr., had been the city’s first speaker and Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) joked that he told his wife they needed to stock more Progresso soup in their home, a nod to Mark-Viverito and the progressives.
Many of the members hailed the unity the Council showed as it lined up unanimously behind the new speaker, and amid the swell of agreeability Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) — who was a candidate for the position early on — stood out when he said debate should not be taboo.
“We shouldn’t be afraid of dissent, we shouldn’t be afraid of debate,” he said. “There’s really nothing wrong with that. That’s democracy.”
Speaking to the Council, Mark-Viverito pledged to tackle issues such as reforming the education system and fighting for a higher minimum wage.
“And yes, we will unite to hold the administration and the mayor accountable,” she said.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.