Resentment of Melissa Mark-Viverito Remains Among Bronx Democrats

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. (Photo: NYC Council/William Alatriste)

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. (Photo: NYC Council/William Alatriste)

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito may have secured all of the votes she needs to become the next City Council speaker, but her staunchest opposition now lies in one of the boroughs she represents: the Bronx. 

Ms. Mark-Viverito has notched the backing of only one of the Bronx delegation’s eight members, incoming Councilman Ritchie Torres, a Progressive Caucus stalwart. And that number is unlikely to change in the near future, thanks to deep-seated resentment in the borough stemming from a bitter fallout between Ms. Mark-Viverito and Bronx Democratic Chair Carl Heastie, sources said. The rift, they added, is so wide it could persist even after Ms. Mark-Viverito is officially crowned.

“They really don’t like Melissa,” one county source told Politicker. “It’s been very bitter since the redistricting battle. There’s  a lot of hard feelings there.”

Last week, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and the Brooklyn Democratic Party brokered a deal to give Ms. Mark-Viverito the 26 votes she needed to become the next speaker. Queens and the Bronx—traditionally the strongest county organizations—were shut out of the agreement and now appear to have little bargaining power going into the Jan. 8 vote. But while many in Queens are fuming, the smaller Bronx delegation is more united in their antipathy, sources said.

“I don’t think it’s a good relationship. Members who have had an opportunity to serve with her don’t see her very favorably,” said another source close to the Bronx county organization.

Mr. Heastie, a typically taciturn man who declined to comment for this story, first tangled with Ms. Mark-Viverito a year ago during the City Council’s redistricting process, when Ms. Mark-Viverito’s East Harlem-based district was redrawn to include a large swath of the south Bronx.

Ms. Mark-Viverito vociferously protested the decision, at one point accusing outgoing Council Speaker Christine Quinn of engineering the move to curry favor with Mr. Heastie and the rest of Bronx county in advance of her mayoral run. In a later round of maps, portions of Ms. Mark-Viverito’s base were restored, but the damage, insiders said, had been done. 

The Bronx was not a haven of goodwill for Ms. Mark-Viverito during election season, either. Ms. Mark-Viverito, a two-term incumbent, quietly struggled in her bid for reelection. In the Bronx, Ms. Mark-Viverito eked out a reed-thin 11-vote win over runner-up Ralina Cardona while fending off challengers by larger, but still uncomfortable, margins in Manhattan.  She went on to win the primary with just 35 percent of the vote—the lowest by any incumbent in the city.

And now, the majority of members of the Bronx delegation including Annabel Palma, Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Vanessa Gibson, Andrew Cohen, Jimmy Vacca and Andy King appear unlikely, at least for now, to back Ms. Mark-Viverito’s bid, instead falling behind Manhattan’s Dan Gardonick, who claims he still has time to pull together the votes he needs to win. Most of the Bronx delegation, according to sources, remains strongly loyal to Mr. Heastie. (Mr. King, an early de Blasio endorser, is seen as the most likely to defect, but a week after Ms. Mark-Viverito declared victory in the race and launched a P.R. offensive to boost her win, no new council members have joined her camp.)

Also playing an alleged role, according to some Bronx insiders, is the powerful Real Estate Board of New York, which both Mr. Heastie and Congressman Joe Crowley are close to. REBNY, which spent millions this year trying to influence City Council races, is generally believed to be concerned about Ms. Mark-Viverito’s brand of liberalism. REBNY denies, however, that they are involved in any way in the speaker’s race. (Ironically, REBNY propped up Ms. Mark-Viverito’s biggest Bronx booster, Mr. Torres.)

Still, those close to Ms. Mark-Viverito claim the rift between the Bronx and the councilwoman is exaggerated. 

“They’re not allies, but it’s not as bad they’ve made it seem. She’s just not part of their camp,” a source close to the councilwoman said. “But I’m sure when she’s speaker she will be able to have a working relationship.”

Eric Koch, a spokeswoman for Ms. Mark-Viverito, took things further, stressing Ms. Mark-Viverito’s connection to the Bronx.

“Since part of Melissa’s district is in the Bronx, she has a good relationship there with other councilmembers, elected officials and community groups,” he said. “If elected speaker, she would look forward to working together with them to make sure the Bronx and New York are better for all New Yorkers.”

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