Maneuvering For White’s Committee Chairmanship Under Way

Queens Councilman Tom White passed away in August, and more than six weeks later, his chairmanship of the council’s Economic Development committee has yet to be filled.

City Hall insiders have been left wondering why there has been a delay, and a guessing game has been going around the Council about who will be picked by Council Speaker Christine Quinn to fill the slot. There are now seven Democratic council members who do not head committees–Steve Levin, Brad Lander, Mark Weprin, Fernando Cabrera,  Vincent Gentile, David Greenfield and Charles Barron. All but Greenfield and Barron head subcommittees, but Greenfield was only elected in special election last March, and Barron was not assigned a committee chairmanship after he got into a shouting match with a CUNY trustee and mounted a run for Speaker himself. Lander, Weprin, and Levin all have fairly prominent subcommittee posts, and are unlikely to want to give those up, but Gentile is reportedly interested in heading Economic Development.

According to sources, it is likely that the post will go to someone who, like White, represents Queens. Part of the deal when the Queens delegation backed Quinn for Speaker and gave up the coveted slot of Finance committee chairman–former chairman David Weprin gave up his seat to run for city comptroller and was replaced by Brooklyn’s Dominic Recchia–was that all Queens councilmembers would get committee chairs.  James Sanders headed Economic Development from 2002-2006, and is thought by some on the Council to want the chairmanship back. Julissa Ferreras, who now heads the Women’s Issues committee, has also been mentioned as someone who could move over.

The decision may rest on who wins the special election in Queens to replace White. The two front-runners are thought to be  Ruben Wills, who has the support of most of the elected officials in the area, and Nicole Paultre Bell, the fiancee of Sean Bell. If Bell wins, this line of thinking goes, she could take over the Women’s Committee and Ferreras could move over; if Wills win, he could take Sanders slot and Sanders would move over. Plus, either one would be considered candidates for the job, which comes with a $6,000 lulu.

Daniel Garodnick of Manhattan and Mike Nelson of Brooklyn were also mentioned as possible candidates.

Although economic development is a major agenda items in these rough economic times, the committee has lost some of its relevance in recent years, several council members and staffers say. Most of the major legislation that the council has wrestled with in the past year, including Paid Sick Leave and the living wage measure did not go through the committee, and the Small Business committee, headed Diana Reyna, has taken over much of the responsibilities.