Speaker’s Race Looms Large as Melissa Mark-Viverito Seeks Re-Election

City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito with supporters at a birthday fundraiser. (Photo: Facebook/mmarkviverito)

City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito with supporters at a birthday fundraiser. (Photo: Facebook/mmarkviverito)

At a birthday fundraiser last night in East Harlem, friends and supporters gathered to toast City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito’s re-election bid for a redrawn district. But for the two-term progressive rabble-rouser, there is far more at stake than keeping her seat.

“We want to see her Speaker!” shouted one supporter as the group crowded around Ms. Viverito at the cozy El Kallejon on East 117th Street to hear her remarks.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who is running for city comptroller, underscored the significance of the race, at a time when the speakership is up for grabs.

“I want you to know that I look forward to walking the streets of El Barrio with Melissa to make sure that she wins, that she has the mandate she needs for the next four years. Because you never know when her leadership skills will be called on to do some bigger things in city government,” Mr. Stringer said to applause, prompting calls of “Melissa for Speaker!” from the crowd.

Mr. Stringer has endorsed Ms. Mark-Viverito in her council race against a group of lesser-known challengers, but has not formally weighed in on the leadership contest.

Ms. Mark-Viverito is considered one of the leading contenders to succeed City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is running for mayor. The speakership won’t be decided until a new class of council members takes office next year, but the wannabe speakers have nonetheless been busy jockeying behind the scenes, making appearances and supporting candidates who might deliver votes.

Harlem City Councilwoman Inez Dickens, a close ally of Ms. Quinn, is often introduced as “Speaker Inez Dickens” by supporters, while Ms. Mark-Viverito has made no secret that she, too, is interested in the race. Other names that have also been mentioned are Manhattan City Councilman Daniel Garodnick, Councilman Mark Weprin, from Queens and Jimmy Vacca from the Bronx.

Ms. Mark-Viverito’s district was one of the most dramatically altered during this year’s redistricting process, with a majority of its population now located in The Bronx. She has repeatedly accused Ms. Quinn of failing to reverse the changes for her own political gain–a charge that Quinn’s office has denied.

But Ms. Viverito appeared Tuesday to be taking the new lines in stride.

“It has been an incredible honor and an incredible pleasure to serve district,” she told her supporters, who sipped on sangria and nibbled on passed Mexican hors d’oeuvres.

“It will be a very different district as of January,” she acknowledged. “We’re hoping the transition will be smooth and that we can ensure great representation.”

Mr. Stringer sounded a similar theme.

“Melissa has a primary and it’s important that she not only win, but she win big. Because part of what she is about is about organizing and protecting and building coalitions to make sure her district is elevated in the public discourse,” he said, after wishing her “feliz cumpleaños” in shaky Spanish. “Whether it’s Bronx or Manhattan , or a combination, the truth is that before she was elected, it wasn’t a lot of attention paid to this area. It wasn’t a lot of resources that came in.”