Brooklyn Throws Council Speaker’s Race Into a Pitch

NEW YORK -

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito appears to have aligned enough support for herself to become New York City’s next council speaker, with the mayor-elect on Wednesday getting the Brooklyn Democratic party chairman to drop his opposition to her candidacy and other candidates backing out in her favor.

But Dan Garodnick, a Manhattan councilman seen as more moderate than Mark-Viverito, a co-founder of the council’s soon-to-be powerful Progressive Caucus, says he is not backing down.

“This is a campaign that has three weeks to go, and I’m feeling really good about where we stand,” Garodnick told the Daily News.

Until Tuesday night, Garodnick had the support of Democratic party chairs of Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn in a race where party chairmen hold much sway. But Bill de Blasio called Brooklyn Democratic party chairman Frank Seddio and secured his backing for Mark-Viverito, the first council member to support the mayor-elect’s candidacy in the tough Democratic primary earlier this year.

“Basically, Bill de Blasio reached out to him and said, ‘You’re a Brooklyn guy, I’m a Brooklyn guy, let’s make a deal,’” a source told Crain’s New York. “The [council] members then agreed to unite behind it.”

Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, seen as a rival of Mark-Viverito, announced Tuesday he was dropping out of the race and will be supporting her. On the other hand, Councilman Mark Weprin of Queens backed out Wednesday in favor of Garodnick.

One surprising kingmaker who emerged from the negotiations immeasurably strengthened is Councilman-elect Chaim Deutsch, an Orthodox Jewish Flatbush Democrat who reportedly is backing Mark-Viverito.

A source told Hamodia that Deutsch “has emerged as a major player” in the speaker’s race. As a legislator who is independent of both the Brooklyn Democratic party and the progressive caucus, he is “heavily courted by both sides,” the source said. Both Deutsch and Councilman David Greenfield are expected to get plum committee assignments.

If the Progressive Caucus votes as a bloc, that would give them 21 votes, five away from the number needed to elect their candidate in the 51-member chamber. Seddio’s support likely closes the gap, making Mark-Viverito a shoo-in when the vote takes place on Jan. 8.

However, Garodnick says he’s still in the race and that he can win it. Chairmen of the Queens and Bronx Democratic parties are holding firm with him, and he also has support among councilmen in Staten Island and a handful of other unaligned lawmakers.

Agudath Israel leaders on Wednesday met with Mark-Viverito at their Manhattan headquarters in a previously scheduled meeting to discuss major issues affecting the Jewish community.

The hour-and-a-half discussion on education, children with special needs, job training, religious rights and affordable housing was attended by Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president; Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, vice president for community services; and Board of Trustee members Chaskel Bennett and Leon Goldenberg.

Agudah had previously met speaker contenders Garodnick and Weprin.

“These consultations are designed with the goal of helping the various candidates for the speakership understand the Orthodox Jewish community, its concerns and priorities,” Rabbi Zwiebel said in a statement.

The position of speaker is a powerful one, although a bill is being prepared to give some control back to individual lawmakers.

Under current Speaker Christine Quinn, a Manhattan Democrat who lost the Democrat mayoral primary to de Blasio, several councilmen complained that she used member items, or funds that can be distributed at individual members’ discretion, to reward her allies and punish those who voted the wrong way.

Quinn also enforced council discipline by toughening requirements to present legislation and doing away with council resolutions that had nothing to do with the Big Apple.

The spectacle of 2005 hangs before Seddio’s face, when his predecessor was late in backing Quinn, thus losing clout for his borough’s representatives. If Mark-Viverito wins because of the Brooklyn delegation, that will help them in getting coveted committees such as finance.

The Jan. 8 voting is usually a formality, with the winner traditionally announcing weeks before that he or she has support from a majority of members at a City Hall press conference.