De Blasio Ally Declares Victory in Council Speaker Race

NEW YORK (AP/Hamodia) -

Melissa Mark-Viverito, one of New York City’s most liberal council members and a close ally of Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, claimed victory late Wednesday in the race to be the city’s next council speaker — three weeks before the council is set to vote on a new leader.

In a statement, Mark-Viverito touted the support of 30 other councilmembers, four more than required to capture the majority needed to become speaker.

“I am humbled to have the support and confidence that my colleagues have placed in me,” Mark-Viverito, a Democrat who represents East Harlem, said in a statement. “Today is the culmination of over two decades of my work at the grassroots, in nonprofit organizations, in labor and as a public servant.”

The statement includes quotes from 30 councilmen, including all of its progressive caucus, to which she also belongs. However, any selection is not official until the council votes on Jan. 8 and the race to this point has taken many twists and turns.

If nothing else, the move read as a power play attempting to drive her leading rival, Manhattan Councilman Dan Garodnick, from the race. Garodnick vowed Wednesday to continue to seek the post. Council insiders noted that several of those promising to back Mark-Viverito may still be peeled away over the next three weeks, removing her majority.

Mark-Viverito’s bold declaration was the culmination of a wild back-and-forth day fitting the topsy-turvy day. Hours earlier, fellow Democrat de Blasio confirmed that he called several councilmen about the race, a seemingly dramatic attempt to exert influence in the selection process.

However, he refused to discuss reports that he was pressuring the councilmen to support Mark-Viverito, a longtime ally who was the first councilmember to endorse de Blasio’s then-underdog mayoral campaign earlier this year.

“I will simply say I talked to some council members,” he said during an unrelated Brooklyn press conference. “I gave them my observations on what’s going on. They’re going to make their own decision.”

Despite next month’s vote, much of the speaker selection process is done behind closed doors.

The 21-member progressive caucus initially struggled to unify around one candidate but closed ranks around Mark-Viverito. Three powerful Democratic county leaders — representing Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx — initially united against Mark-Viverito and were in talks to throw their support behind the slightly more moderate Garodnick.

But on Wednesday, Frank Seddio, the Brooklyn county chairman, spoke to de Blasio and later announced he was switching his support to Mark-Viverito, delivering enough votes to apparently push her over the threshold.

Councilmen representing Jewish parts of Brooklyn will reportedly be given plum committee assignments. Brad Lander, the co-founder of the Progressive Caucus who facilitated Mark-Viverito’s victory, is said to become deputy speaker for policy and David Greenfield will chair the Land Use committee — the second most coveted after Finance, which is said to go to Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens.

Mark-Viverito is widely considered one of the most liberal members of the council and on some positions is even to the left of de Blasio. She is an outspoken advocate for workers and immigrant rights and was arrested in 2011 while supporting Occupy Wall Street.

If chosen, she will be the first Latina to be named speaker. She would replace Christine Quinn, who is leaving office at the end of the month.