‘This Is Going to Be All-Out War’: Progressives and County Leaders Collide Over Speaker’s Race

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. (Photo: Getty)

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. (Photo: Getty)

The city’s most powerful Democratic county organizations and its allies are bracing for political warfare after Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio began telling council members that he would like to see Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito elected the next City Council speaker.

“This is going to be an all-out war,” a source in one of the county organizations told Politicker today, as the clash reached a new phase. “De Blasio is bullying members to go with Melissa. The new members are really afraid. But most county leaders and veteran council members want anyone but Melissa.”

According to multiple sources, Mr. de Blasio’s team is spending time today speaking with county leaders like Queens Democratic chair Joe Crowley and Brooklyn’s Frank Seddio about the race. After Mr. de Blasio quietly made phone calls in the last 24 hours to about a dozen council members to express his support for Ms. Mark-Viverito, county leaders–particularly Carl Heastie, chair of the Bronx Democratic Party, and Mr. Crowley–apparently grew livid.

A clear rift has now opened between Mr. de Blasio and the leaders–who have traditionally played an outsized role in the selection of a council speaker–further complicating the selection process, according to those briefed on the situation. County leaders had previously been under the impression that Mr. de Blasio, as the first Democratic mayor in two decades and a former councilman himself, held sway over the race but would not directly intervene in the selection process. By telling council members he wants Ms. Mark-Viverito–a liberal firebrand favored by many in the left-leaning Progressive Caucus bloc but less popular among more moderate members–the county leaders are said to believe he crossed a line.

“The overall supposition was that Bill de Blasio could call the shots if he wanted to, but that he wouldn’t do that. That ultimately he’d want to play ball and make nice with everyone,” said a Democrat with knowledge of the county’s thinking. “Now that that isn’t coming true, they are panicking.”

Members of the Progressive bloc are now privately boasting that they have secured the majority necessary, 26 of 51 members, to elect Ms. Mark-Viverito at the start of next year’s legislative session. Previously, Progressive Caucus sources have said they had a bloc of 22 votes. It is not immediately clear who the four council additional members are, whether the bloc has changed or whether Ms. Mark-Viverito indeed has a majority locked in. 

One source aware of the county leaders’s thinking said that Mr. Crowley, Mr. Heastie and Mr. Seddio are discussing uniting around Manhattan Councilman Dan Garodnick as a “compromise” candidate, passing over Mark Weprin, another front-runner, who is aligned with the Queens organization. Mr. Garodnick did not immediately return a request for comment. 

“The county leaders are very likely to push back with Dan Garodnick. Their thinking on that is that they still believe Brooklyn has about eight votes; Queens ten; the Bronx seven … Garodnick picks up some Progressive [bloc] votes and they get somewhere in the mid 30s. That’s the play,” said the source. “They’ll come back to de Blasio and say, ‘We see your Melissa Mark-Viverito, we call it with Dan Garodnick.’”

Ms. Mark-Viverito, who was one of Mr. de Blasio’s earliest endorsers in the mayor’s race, declined to comment. 

A spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio said he “routinely talks with members of the City Council and other civic leaders about the critical issues facing New York City,” but declined to answer specific questions.