De Blasio Tries to Sway City Council Speaker Race


New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who made the unusual decision to forcefully interject himself into the race for the powerful post leading the city council, may have helped engineer a victory for his preferred candidate.

The 51 members of the council will vote Wednesday to choose their new speaker and Melissa Mark-Viverito, a fierce liberal who represents East Harlem, has proclaimed that she has secured the majority needed to defeat contender Dan Garodnick.

De Blasio’s intervention is unconventional. For at least the past 50 years, mayors — including his powerful three-term predecessor Michael Bloomberg — haven’t been publicly involved in the selection process for the post that is often seen as a check to the power of the city’s chief executive.

If Mark-Viverito wins, de Blasio would have hand-picked the speaker, who would to some degree owe her position to him. That would give him a close ally in the position in city government that has the most power to speed up or obstruct his legislative agenda.

De Blasio has faced criticism that he has overstepped his powers to push an ally as speaker, the second-most powerful post in government behind the mayor, especially since he frequently chided Bloomberg for his sometimes-cozy relationship with former speaker Christine Quinn. Quinn defeated then-Councilman de Blasio in the race for speaker in 2005.

De Blasio has been dismissive when asked if it would be difficult to govern if the head of the legislative branch had the same liberal ideology as the mayor.

“Wow,” he said sarcastically last month, “what a challenge that would be.”

De Blasio has remained publicly cagey about his involvement to support a candidate who, on many issues, is more liberal than he is. He has said several times that he has simply offered “observations” to councilmembers who are “going to make their own decisions.”

On Monday he confirmed that he spoke to some Bronx members but would only say that they had a “very productive exchange” about the selection process.

Garodnick, however, has not bowed out of the race and has tried to peel off some off his rival’s supporters.

Considering the amount of political capital de Blasio has spent on the race, a Garodnick upset win would be an embarrassing defeat.

De Blasio, a Democrat who won a general election landslide and took office last week, began his intense behind-the scenes lobbying on behalf of Mark-Viverito as the speaker field began to winnow down to its final two candidates a month ago, council members have said.

As other contenders withdrew and split their support behind Democrats Mark-Viverito and Garodnick, council members said de Blasio lobbied them to support his choice. Mark-Viverito is one of his earliest supporters and a member of the council’s progressive caucus.

In response, three powerful Democratic county leaders — the chairs of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx — rallied behind Garodnick, a slightly less liberal councilman from Manhattan, seemingly putting him in pole position.

But then Frank Seddio, the Brooklyn chairman, announced that he would instead back Mark-Viverito after talking with de Blasio.

The lobbying for the position has also included promises of plum committee assignments, according to council members and their staffs. Mark-Viverito has declared victory, stating she had the backing of 30 other councilmembers, four more than required to win.

If elected, she would be the first Latina to hold the post and will diversify the top ranks of government, joining Public Advocate Letitia James, who is black. Both de Blasio and Comptroller Scott Stringer are white.

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