Mark-Viverito Admits Staff in Conversation With de Blasio Over Speaker’s Race

The candidates for City Council speaker at tonight's forum at Baruch College.

The candidates for City Council speaker at tonight’s forum at Baruch College.

City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito said tonight that her senior staff have been in conversation with Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio about her candidacy for City Council speaker–which Mr. de Blasio had previously said he was not involved with.

The disclosure came during the latest in a series of candidates forums, held at Baruch College in Manhattan.

But the East Harlem councilwoman, who has the enthusiastic backing of several labor unions, refused to answer questions about the discussions. “If you have another question on another matter, I’m more than happy to entertain it,” she told reporters after the forum.

Another candidate, Queens Councilman Mark Weprin, said that he had personally discussed the race with Mr. de Blasio, telling Politicker the two had had a brief conversation at a fund-raiser.

“I met with Mayor de Blasio the day before the election, just briefly,” he said “We sat down and we talked for a few minutes. It wasn’t like he called me to set up the meeting. I did it myself. But we did talk about the speaker’s race.” During the conversation, Mr. Weprin recalled, Mr. de Blasio “said he has nothing but good things to say about me, but there’s going to be a process, and there are other good candidates as well.”

A transition official for Mr. de Blasio–who had previously said it was too soon to even think about the race–said in a statement, “Mayor-elect de Blasio and his team are always open to discussions with other leaders in the city. He has said repeatedly that he respects the process that the city council leaders are engaged in.”

The other candidates–Jumaane Williams from Brooklyn, Dan Garodnick and Inez Dickens from Manhattan and Jimmy Vacca and Annabel Palma from the Bronx–said neither they nor their senior staff been in touch with Mr. de Blasio. Though all did say they were in communication with the Democratic country leaders, who have historically played a pivotal role in the behind-the-scenes race, which will be decided by the members in the new year.

The candidates noted the dynamics of the race this year are very different, thanks to the growing influence of the progressive caucus, which is expected to play an unprecedented role.

“It’s an interesting year because everyone seems to be part of a bloc of votes this time. It’s unusual. There aren’t a lot of free agents where people are not affiliated with either the Progressive Caucus, the county organization or the Republican party,” said Mr. Weprin, who predicted a long, drawn-out contest. “I have a feeling we’ll be going past Christmas before we really have a speaker picked.”

Ms. Dickens, whose prospects dimmed when her ally, current Speaker Christine Quinn, lost the mayor’s race, said she felt most members were already committed to a candidate and simply asked that they consider her as their second-choice.

But Mr. Vacca described a far more open field. “I think many members have not made commitments at this point,” he said.

The members of the progressive caucus, which will number about 20 come January, have committed to vote together as a bloc–but have yet to decide on a candidate. They will be holding interviews with prospective candidates this Sunday, members said.

Ms. Mark-Viverito and Mr. Williams–both caucus members–said they intended to follow through with their pledge. They also pushed back against criticism for committing to vote for a candidate without knowing which candidate will get the group’s nod.

“It’s not like we’re agreeing on blind to vote with anybody,” stressed Mr. Williams. “We’re focused on ideology.”