Van Bramer, Richards try to separate from pack in race for Council Speaker

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (l.) and Donovan Richards are among eight canidates jockeying to replace Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito next month.
Photos by Michael Shain

With less than a month to go before the 51 members of the City Council choose between eight candidates to replace Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the two representatives from Queens, City Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), broke with the other contenders who are mostly in favor of extending term limits.

Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn), one of the speaker candidates, introduced legislation last week that would ask voters if they would like to extend term limits from two four-year terms to three terms.

Richards thinks the extension has merits but very little support among the voting public.

“I personally believe the proper amount of time is three terms to do the job right, but I haven’t heard from any grassroots groups in my district that are calling for it,” Richards said.

Van Bramer was more adamantly opposed to the bill during a NY1 candidates debate last Friday. “I do not see a groundswell of citizens seeking a referenda,” Van Bramer said. “I do not see the impetus coming from the people to change this law.”

In fact, Van Bramer had gone on the record a day earlier when the bill was introduced.

“I do not support the legislation introduced today to extend term limits, since the public has already voted against doing so three times via public referenda. I was invited to co-sponsor the legislation to extend term limits, and declined. I will not be voting for it either,” Van Bramer said.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg pressured then Speaker Christine Quinn to force an extension on term limits in 2008 in a move that may have cost her in a failed mayoral bid in 2013.

“I support term limits and believe the proper length in the Council is in fact three terms, as I myself will have the opportunity to serve,” Van Bramer said. “However, this conversation should not be driven in the context of the speaker’s race. Any future change must come from the people and take place after a lengthy public debate. I stand opposed to any move to overturn the democratic will of the voters of New York City.”

There was another moment during the NY1 debate where Van Bramer stood out from the crowd of eight candidates. City Councilman Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) asked him how he could support seven-day service at public libraries in the face of potential massive federal funding cuts by the Trump administration. Van Bramer, the current majority leader and chairman of the Council’s Cultural and Libraries Committee, had a retort.

“Few things are as important in these times as public libraries when immigrants are under assault from Donald Trump. We as a city need to value these institutions that are really on the front lines of protecting immigrants, especially the undocumented,” Van Bramer said. “The truth is the last time our libraries were open seven days a week were during the Depression because New Yorkers understood libraries were at their most valuable when people were going through the toughest of times.”

The future speaker needs to secure at least 26 votes when the race is decided Jan.3

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), the chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, is far more involved in this speaker race, than in 2014, with 32 votes reportedly already pledged to him. A source close to the Queens County Democrats said “everyone is doing their due diligence to make sure the right person is getting the right support.”

There is no indication who Crowley will support for Speaker.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

More from Around New York