The incoming New York City Council allocated Wednesday the chairmanships of the committees controlling zoning laws, city property, sanitation and non-public schools to legislators representing the heaviest Orthodox areas of the city, giving the community a representation not seen in decades.
The distribution of portfolios was announced at the incoming council’s first official meeting Wednesday, with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito giving out the prized posts to her supporters, detractors and like-minded lawmakers. Chairmanships come with an $8,000 a year bonus, while leadership positions bolster the councilman’s $112,000 annual salary by $15,000.
With the largest delegation of any borough, Brooklyn, which has often not translated their quantity into political heft, emerged well represented in the council leadership, as well as in chairing some of the most influential committees.
The biggest winner of the day is the Progressive Caucus, which was co-founded by Mark-Viverito. The other co-founder, Brad Lander, who represents a significant share of Boro Park, chairs the Rules committee, which decides how the council is run, assigns committees and is arguably the body’s most powerful position after the Speaker.
Under a new structure meant to remove some of the power held by the Speaker, seven deputy leaders were named on Wednesday, one from Manhattan, three from Brooklyn, two from the Bronx and one from Staten Island. These are Dan Garodnick, a Manhattanite who was Mark-Viverito’s top challenger for the speakership; Brooklyn’s Lander, Vincent Gentile and Jumaane Williams; Staten Island’s Deborah Rose; and the Bronx’s Jimmy Vacca and Ritchie Torres.
Torres is the lone freshman to be named a deputy leader while Gentile is the longest serving lawmaker.
While Brooklyn lost to Queens Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras the leadership of the most prestigious panel, Finance, which controls the city’s $70 billion-plus budget, they did receive a cluster of top-tier committees.
David Greenfield, a Democrat representing Boro Park and Flatbush, will lead the powerful Land Use committee, which oversees all city property and urban renewal plans, zoning laws and approving real estate developments.
Land Use is considered, along with Finance, one of the twin powers of the council chairmanships.
“This power,” says the Council’s website, “gives the Council the most significant voice in the growth and development of our city.”
Greenfield, a close ally of Brooklyn’s Democratic party chairman, Frank Seddio, was said to have snagged a top committee assignment after Seddio changed his allegiance to back Mark-Viverito as speaker.
The most important move Wednesday for the Orthodox community is the creation of a subcommittee to specifically tackle nonpublic school issues. Seen as a boon for the growing yeshivah and private school population, it will be chaired by newly elected Councilman Chaim Deutsch, a Flatbush Democrat who supported Mark-Viverito’s speaker bid weeks before the rest of Brooklyn’s delegation joined in.
Jewish groups welcomed the new subcommittee, which allows complaints unique to the private school system to be aired publicly for the first time.
“The creation of this committee is long overdue,” Deutsch said in a release. “While I fully support our public schools and will work to make them the best possible, fairness demands that appropriate recognition must be given to parents and taxpayers who choose to send their children to independent, parochial or private schools.”
“This new committee could not have come at a better time,” Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel, said in a statement calling the panel “historic.”
“The city’s nonpublic school community includes some 270,000 students, comprising more than 20 percent of the total city school population,” added Rabbi Zwiebel, who also chairs the Committee of NYC Religious and Independent School Officials, which represents virtually all religious and private schools.
“It is about time that such a large and diverse population had its needs focused on by the City Council,” he said.
The Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition, which played a strong role in helping elect Deutsch, congratulated the speaker for setting up the subcommittee.
“The issues facing non-public school parents are many and diverse,” Josh Mehlman, chairman of the FJCC, said in a statement, “from school busing and lunch programs, to therapists’ and special needs evaluations.”
Deutsch, the founder of Flatbush Shomrim, will also sit on the Public Safety committee, which oversees the New York Police Department.
Over in Williamsburg, the new councilman, Antonio Reynosa will chair the important Sanitation committee. Mark Levine, a Jewish councilman from Harlem and Washington Heights, will chair the Parks committee. This is a vital panel to the Jewish community, which tends to have large families and young children.
Vincent Ignizio was elected Republican leader, while Steven Matteo will be the minority whip. Both are from Staten Island. Rounding out the tiny GOP contingent is Eric Ulrich of Queens, the only Republican who will chair a committee (Veterans).
Only four of the 51 councilmen did not receive any leadership or chairs: Manhattan’s Rosie Mendez, the Bronx’s Andy King and Annabel Palma, and Queens’s Rory Lancman.