The city’s powerful healthcare workers union says they are lobbying for one City Council speaker hopeful, Melissa Mark-Viverito, without Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s urging.
The union, SEIU 1199, told Politicker they are backing Ms. Mark-Viverito on their own volition, even though she is a close ally of Mr. de Blasio and the union was one of Mr. de Blasio’s most prominent endorsers in the early stages of his mayoral bid–giving legitimacy to his candidacy when he was largely on his own.
“I don’t think he’s put his weight behind any candidate at this point,” Kevin Finnegan, the union’s political director, said yesterday in a phone interview. “I’m quite sure he hasn’t. I talk to those people everyday.”
While Mr. de Blasio remains mum on his intentions, Mr. Finnegan is far less bashful; 1199 hosted a reception for Ms. Mark-Viverito–who used to work for the union–last week during the Somos Conference in Puerto Rico, sparking new momentum for her candidacy, and has been overtly touting her candidacy, wooing county leaders and fellow members.
“We’ve been talking individually to council members, talking to county people,” he explained. “I had dinner with [Bronx County Democratic Chair] Carl Heastie and spent a lot of time talking about the race. 1199 has been strategizing with Melissa on approaches to different people. Everyone in the council is different.”
Mr. de Blasio, as the first Democratic mayor in 20 years and a former councilman, will likely affect the trajectory of the speaker’s race, an inside-baseball contest that will be decided by the City Council’s 51-member body. Of the three most-cited front-running candidates–Ms. Mark-Viverito, Mark Weprin and Dan Garodnick–Mr. de Blasio is believed by many to favor Ms. Mark-Viverito, but it’s not clear how that will manifest itself. (And some dispute this is the case.)
Mr. Finnegan said 1199 did not have any specific qualms with Mr. Weprin or Mr. Garodnick. Rather, they feel especially close to Ms. Mark-Viverito, whom they have long backed financially. And despite her reputation as a liberal firebrand who may be alienating to some council members, Mr. Finnegan believes her support is solid and growing.
“No one has indicated they have a real problem with her. I think that the dynamics have changed on the council and this race has changed things,” he argued, pointing to the growing influence of the left-leaning progressive caucus, which she co-chairs. “It’s a whole different ballgame now with this progressive caucus which is supposedly trying to stick together around one candidate. It makes how this will come together a little unknown. It’s different dynamic than the past.”
Mr. Finnegan also said he hoped the battle for speaker would not resemble 2005′s bitter clash between Mr. de Blasio and outgoing Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Ms. Quinn has openly talked about how her strategy involved winning over the support of powerful establishment figures like the chair of the Queens County Democratic Party, while Mr. de Blasio targeted individual members.
“I hope county leaders and everyone at the end of the day will agree on a candidate and it won’t be a fight like it was with Bill de Blasio and Christine Quinn,” he said.
Ms. Mark-Viverito declined to comment.