Ever since we have known him, two things have struck us about Corey Johnson: You should never underestimate his political ability, and he works extremely hard.
Those qualities — his political acumen and ambition, plus his relentless effort to achieve his goals — explain why today he is the City Council’s new speaker.
Frankly, Johnson’s being the Council’s leader represents a breath of fresh air and offers, potentially, a lot of hope for a better city more attuned to the needs of the people.
We have just had 12 years of Council speakers who worked extremely closely — many would say, too closely — with mayors. Christine Quinn was speaker for eight years with Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Most notably, after having said she would not support extending term limits, she turned around and, doing Bloomberg’s bidding, got the Council to extend them legislatively. Voters didn’t forget and it hurt her in her run for mayor four years ago.
Meanwhile, her successor as speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, was handpicked by Mayor Bill de Blasio and was his staunchest ally at City Hall.
Early on, though, Johnson has made it clear he will be his own man and that the Council — which he vowed he won’t run “with an iron fist” — will be independent. While he also said he plans to be a pragmatic partner with de Blasio — who did not want him to be speaker — Johnson shows no signs that the Council, under him, will be timid about staking out its own positions on important issues.
One clear example is congestion pricing. Johnson said he supports the idea, though he isn’t sure exactly what form it would take. De Blasio, on the other hand, says he has never liked the concept. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has gotten onboard the traffic-easing scheme, stating, “Congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come.” Obviously, Manhattan is being crushed by too much traffic, and congestion pricing is long overdue.
Also on transportation, Johnson says the city should help fund the subway system. The mayor adamantly says, No. But, as Johnson correctly states, this is a problem that is affecting millions of New Yorkers — plus, he doesn’t have a feud with Cuomo clouding his judgment on this critical issue.