Appearing in Staten Island tonight for yet another City Council speaker candidates’ forum, the seven Democratic hopefuls strained to appease the three Republicans in the 51-member body, two of whom were in attendance.
All of the pols was pressed to explain how they would cooperate with the incoming Republican minority, which includes two Staten Island lawmakers, Steven Matteo and Vincent Ignizio.
“The Republicans are screwed,” whispered Councilman Jumaane Williams, a Democrat like all of his rivals, as the audience erupted into laughter. “Of course I’m kidding.”
As the GOP duo looked on, each speaker hopeful repackaged a similar theme: while lifelong Democrats loyal to their ideals, they would be more than willing to cater to the three GOP members who are currently denied many of the perks of the council, including chairing committees.
The Democrats were not speaking out of complete altruism, however. Each needs the votes of a majority of 51 colleagues to become speaker and the three Republicans–by pledging to vote as a bloc–could represent a crucial puzzle piece in the opaque, backroom process.
“I really believe that everybody wants the same thing,” continued Mr. Williams. “Usually when you’re talking about a party, you’re just talking about a different way of looking at how to get that … My job as a speaker would be to make sure that colleague could bring back the resources they need to represent those 160,000 people who are part of eight million people who live in New York City.”
And Mr. Williams wasn’t the only one to take a humorous tact with the GOP members.
“There’s a minority party in the City Council?” Councilwoman Inez Dickens quipped. As the giggles died down, she argued she would be able to work successfully in a bipartisan fashion because she had fought for more healthcare facilities on the island before: “Everybody banters about ‘progressive’ but I was called a progressive when I agreed to work with all of my colleagues for us to fund their initiative and actually came into a Republican district.”
Councilman Jimmy Vacca, who hails from a more politically-moderate Bronx district, even eschewed party representation altogether.
“I’m not a party label guy,” he said. “I take into account everyone’s views and I show the respect. I only ask for respect in return. And my door will open to all members, regardless of affiliation of party.”
Councilman Mark Weprin, a close ally of the Queens County Democratic Party, further claimed his time as an assemblyman had taught him to treat Republicans well.
“I have very progressive record, but I worked with my Republican colleagues in an extremely strong fashion,” he explained, pivoting to address Staten Island Assemblyman Joe Borelli, who was in the audience. “One of the frustrations of Albany, and Assemblyman Borelli will vouch for this, is that the Republicans are treated like they are second class citizens when they’re in the minority.”
For his part, Councilman Dan Garodnick couldn’t help but name-drop Mr. Ignizio, now the minority leader of the City Council.
“Certainly, the issues I deal with on the East Side of Manhattan are very different than what Council member Ignizio deals with on the southern part of Staten Island,” Mr. Garodnick said. “And yet it is our job, it will be my job, to help support him, help support the Republicans, help support the Democrats. It doesn’t really matter where you’re coming from, your issues need to be front and center in the speaker’s office, they need to be taken seriously.”
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, a front-runner who has attempted to brand herself as the most outspoken progressive in the contest–her alleged stance against the Pledge of Allegiance has drawn the outspoken ire of Queens GOP Councilman Eric Ulrich–stuck to more generic talking points on the question
“I’m very proud of the track record and what I stand up for, but I’m also a very inclusive person who will sit at the table and get different points of view,” she said. “I see the Republican colleagues … as equal partners in this too. I know that Staten Island, oftentimes, feels like you can forget about it, that it’s a forgotten borough. Well, the council members that are Republicans will not be forgotten council members.”