Shortly after noon yesterday, Margaret Chin walked into the ornate chambers of the New York City Council, and along with 48 colleagues, took the oath of office. In so doing, she fulfilled a lifelong dream, becoming Lower Manhattan’s representative at City Hall. At the same time, she and 12 other freshman members helped usher in a new era. The first Asian woman to serve on the City Council, Chin is a member of the Council’s first-ever non-white majority.
The group is widely expected to challenge the status quo. But in yesterday’s “racially charged” session Chin signaled her determination to emphasize pragmatism. The members voted 48-1 to re-elect Christine Quinn as their speaker, but not before a dramatic challenge from Councilmember Charles Barron. Saying it’s “our turn” and invoking the names of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, Barron said the time had come to elect a black or latino speaker. While the vote was taking place, protesters in the balcony heckled many of the councilmembers, calling them “sellouts.” They were finally removed from the chamber by police officers, after disrupting Quinn’s acceptance speech.
After the session, Chin told me she is proud to reflect one of the city’s most diverse districts. She made it clear, however, her first priority will be working with the Council’s leadership to get things done. Chin noted she’s known Christine Quinn for many years, and is confident they’ll have a strong working relationship. Back in November, Chin told The Lo-Down, “I certainly hope that Mayor Bloomberg’s narrow margin… will change the direction and the tone of the Council. We deserve a
government that serves the needs of all New Yorkers, and I think the
Speaker recognizes the kinds of changes that requires.”
In the next two weeks, Quinn will be making committee assignments. There’s been speculation about the elimination of certain committees, including the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee (chaired by Chin’s predecessor, Alan Gerson). Chin said she expected to hear about her assignments sometime before the Council’s next meeting.