Speaker Seat Discussions Heat Up

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(Clockwise from left) James Vacca, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mark Weprin, Dan Garodnick, Jumaane Williams, Jimmy Van Bramer

BY LUIS GRONDA
Staff Writer

For the first time in 20 years, a Democratic Mayor has the opportunity to play a leading role in selecting a new City Council Speaker.

When Bill de Blasio takes office as Mayor in January, it will mark the first time the City’s chief executive shares affiliations with the party in power at the City Council. The new Mayor is expected to be heavily-involved with selecting a Speaker that will be looking to push de Blasio’s progressive agenda.

The leading candidate for the position right now, according to sources close to the Council, is Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan/Bronx), a Latina Councilwoman who took office in 2006.

According to one political insider, she picked up a lot of momentum for the seat after attending the SOMOS Conference in Puerto Rico last week. She also was reported to have significant contact with de Blasio during the conference.

Mark-Viverito reportedly met with a number of Hispanic legislators during the conference, giving her significant support for her candidacy.

Several members of the Council have declared their interest in the position, including Queens Councilmen Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside). Other elected officials who have thrown their hat in the ring include Councilmembers Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan), James Vacca (D-Bronx) and Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn).

While the Council Speaker is elected by other members of the City Council, serving as head of the Council during meetings, County leaders generally play a significant role in pushing a candidate. According to a source within the Council, Queens leaders have in the past eschewed selecting a Queens member as Speaker in order to keep top committee posts for other Queens members of the Council.

Currently, Queens Council members chair six committees in the Council, including Land Use (Leroy Comrie), Public Safety (Peter Vallone Jr.) and Immigration Services (Daniel Dromm). If the Queens delegation wants to keep those chairmanships, as Vallone and Comrie are term-limited, a deal to back another candidate may be required.

How involved de Blasio would want to be in choosing the next Speaker could also be an issue. A political insider noted that de Blasio needed to tread lightly, as the next Speaker could be accused of being too close to the Mayor.

Current Speaker Christine Quinn was widely criticized during her final term as being too close to Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a fact that hurt her significantly during the Democratic Mayoral primary.

“He runs the risk of blurring the lines of checks and balances both bodies have,” the insider said.

While Mark-Viverito has stood out as a front-runner for the position, the decision is far from made, as other Council members are still vying for the spot.

A source said that of the two Queens delegates seeking the spot, Weprin would be a more likely candidate, because of his ties to other Council members and his history within the County organization.

Another potential factor, the source said, in the race is the amount of time the potential speaker can serve. With Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio potentially serving two terms as Mayor, the Council could select a speaker with two terms left as opposed to one. This would promote continuity with having the same Mayor and Speaker for eight years, the insider said.

Both Weprin and Van Bramer are eligible to serve two more terms in the Council. They were grandfathered in when Mayor Bloomberg changed the term limit rule to allow him to run for a third term.

When reached by phone, Weprin said he is “uniquely qualified” to be Speaker because he would be the longest serving councilmember beginning next year and he represents the most diverse district in the City. He also noted his ability to work with his colleagues as well.

“I have a very good ability to bring people together,” he said.

A source close to Van Bramer said the Councilmember is interested in the position and is speaking with everyone involved in the process for the seat.

There are several public forums coming for the Speaker candidates to talk about their candidacy, including one on Nov. 14 at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights. The address for the center is 37-06 77th St., Jackson Heights. It is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Other public forums will occur in Manhattan, Brooklyn and The Bronx.

Reach Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127, lgronda@queenstribune.com, or @luisgronda.