A New Speaker, New Roles For Lower East Side Council Members

Photo by William Alatriste/New York City Council.

Margaret Chin was among those Council members joining Mark-Viverito in a show of unity yesterday. Photo by William Alatriste/New York City Council.

It was a day of high drama Wednesday at City Hall, as the City Council voted to anoint Melissa Mark-Viverito its next speaker.  The speculation now begins about what the new regime means for those who supported Mark-Viverito, as well as those who did not during a bruising battle for the top leadership post.  Throughout the process, the Lower East Side’s two Council members – District 1’s Margaret Chin and District 2’s Rosie Mendez – found themselves in opposing camps (a rare occurrence.)

As the New York Times reported, yesterday’s events marked a major political shift:

The New York City Council unanimously elected a fiercely liberal Democrat from East Harlem as its powerful speaker on Wednesday, eschewing the moderate leadership that had overseen its ranks for a decade and eliminating the last barrier to a government fully in line with the undiluted liberalism embraced by the new mayor… Previous speakers, such as Christine C. Quinn, had acted as a tempering force in the restive Council, bottling up measures like higher wage mandates viewed warily by the business world. Ms. Mark-Viverito is now poised to promote a portfolio of legislation long sought by the Council’s ascendant Progressive Caucus.

A few awkward moments at Margaret Chin's inauguration on Sunday; Council member Brad lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Margaret Chin, Rosie Mendez.

A few awkward moments at Margaret Chin’s inauguration on Sunday; Council member Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Margaret Chin, Rosie Mendez.

Chin, a member of the Progressive Caucus, was a vocal supporter of Mark-Viverito.  During the roll call yesterday, she asked for a moment to explain her vote, saying she respected Mark-Viverito’s opponent for the speaker’s post, Dan Garodnick, and looked forward to working with him in the future, but said for her the choice was clear:

I have also worked with Melissa Mark-Viverito in the Council and I know she will make a great speaker. New York is a progressive city — a city that voted loudly and clearly for a progressive future. I think Melissa will be a true partner as we work together to ensure that every New Yorker can build a better life here. And from a personal standpoint – as a minority and a woman – I am excited to be casting my vote to elect a minority and a woman for citywide office.

There was no shortage of political maneuvering in the past several days.  Minutes before yesterday’s meeting began, there was still the possibility of a floor fight.  Mendez, one of the Council’s most liberal members, was a late hold-out but eventually fell in line for the sake of unity. Back in November, Capital reported:

Mendez has declined to join the Progressive Caucus, the growing group of left-leaning Council members who are hoping to sway the speaker’s race, because she said she found the process “not to be transparent or inclusive.”

Now the focus has shifted to filling key committee posts, with the expectation that Mark-Viverito supporters will be rewarded for their loyalty. Gotham Gazette reported:

Garodnick said he didn’t fear any retribution by the new speaker’s office against him or his supporters.  “We will make sure that their voices are heard and their districts are protected,” he said. “This is an election. It’s over, and everyone will move on to work together tomorrow.” Despite the show of unity, Garodnick and Bronx Councilwoman Anabel Palma — who also held out for Garodnick until the last minute — raised a red flag during the meeting. The two joined the Council in approving the new rules committee, but commented on its lack of inclusiveness.  The committee members include Mark-Viverito and Council members Donovan Richards, Rafael Espinal, Margaret Chin, Deborah Rose, Ydanis Rodriguez and chair Brad Lander — all members of the left-leaning Progressive caucus, which Mark-Viverito helped form. Garodnick said he understood that the named members would serve as placeholders and the committee would likely be broadened but felt compelled to say something. “When I heard the composition, I just thought the point should be made — in the interest of our all being together — that more voices be likely included,” he said.  Mark-Viverito later acknowledged the concerns voiced by Garodnick and Palma, and said more names would be added to the committee.

In her first term, Chin chaired the Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment, which was established following 9/11.  She has previously stated that the time has come — 13 years after the terrorist attacks — to phase out the redevelopment panel. Chin has declined to talk publicly about her hoped-for committee assignments on the new Council, although one news report suggested she could be in line to head the education committee. Mendez chairs the public housing committee.