Progressive Caucus Quietly Vets Speaker Hopefuls

Councilman Jumaane Williams, a speaker candidate and member of the Progressive Caucus.

Councilman Jumaane Williams, a speaker candidate and member of the Progressive Caucus. (Photo: Allison Joyce for Getty Images)

The City Council’s Progressive Caucus interviewed the seven candidates running for council speaker yesterday, revving up the process that will determine which pol the influential bloc unites behind.

The caucus vetted the candidates–council members Mark Weprin, Dan Garodnick, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Inez Dickens, Jumaane Williams, Annabel Palma and Jimmy Vacca–for roughly half-an-hour each in a nondescript Financial District office building, posing questions meant to flesh out how committed each one is to enacting the caucus’s left-leaning agenda.

With about 20 members expected come January, the caucus is hoping to play a crucial role in crowning the second most powerful position in the city, which will be decided by the council’s 51 incoming members come January.

But while the caucus is striving to create a more transparent government, their internal maneuverings have remained rather opaque to the public. Caucus members and candidates revealed few details after the meetings. “We’re not talking about our internal decision-making process, on or off-the-record,” Councilman Brad Lander, a co-chair of the caucus, said this morning when asked about the events.

Nevertheless, sources said speaker hopefuls faced questions about a range of topics, such as land use and budget issues, legislative rules reform and at least one query as to why a speaker hopeful had decided not to join the caucus.

The candidates themselves described a formal interview-like proceeding.

“It was like an interview,” Mr. Weprin told Politicker, speaking at a Jewish charity function Sunday evening. “I had certain things I wanted to say and they had questions they wanted to ask … I feel I made my case forcefully and passionately that I’m the best candidate for the job.”

Still, he declined to speak further on the topic: “I don’t want to be a tattle-tale and say anything else. I know you know that it happened. So it happened.”

Ms. Dickens echoed much of Mr. Weprin’s recollection while leaving the Maiden Lane building after her interview.

“They have questions and you answer the questions to the best of your ability. You already know, all of us know going in, what most of the questions are going to be, if not 100 percent of them,” she said. “You were given time limits to answer and that was understood. When you finish answering the questions that were already posed to you, there was not a lot of time to do a lot of expounding, even if you wanted to expound on the questions.”

Ms. Dickens did not reveal specific questions she answered, but said several were related to the caucus’s quest to reform the rules of the council, including checking the power of the speaker.

After his own interview, Mr. Williams, a member of the caucus, said he couldn’t provide many particulars but spoke positively about the experience. (Like fellow caucus member Ms. Mark-Viverito, Mr. Williams did not join his colleagues in grilling his rivals throughout the day.)

“It’s always productive. You’re speaking directly to members, it can’t be anything but productive,” he said, smiling. “I think it’s good because you get to spend some one-on-one time, which you may not be able to do on the panel. I actually think the more you can meet with individual members, the better.”

Additional reporting by Colin Campbell.

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