Speaker Mark-Viverito Defends Independence After Win

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito today.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito today.

Melissa Mark-Viverito held her first press conference as speaker of the City Council speaker this afternoon, where she brushed aside questions about her independence from the mayor and vowed to battle him on the front of member items. 

“Those who continue to say that don’t know my track record of independence and a trajectory personally,” said Ms. Mark-Viverito in response to one reporter’s question on the topic. “We are a unified City Council. It’s gonna be a collective body, we’re gonna make decisions on the direction we want to go in.”

Clad in a white jacket and flanked by many of her long-standing backers, Ms. Mark-Viverito tried to demonstrate she would be an effective counterweight to Mayor Bill de Blasio–who played a pivotal behind-the-scenes role in her ascension to the speakership–by noting her disagreements with him in the past.

“I have differences with the mayor … on many issues, including the five-borough taxi plan, the soda plan, discretionary allocations,” she said, ticking off policies. “I have a consistent record of being able to be very vocal on positions that I, when I arrive at a decision, and now decisions will be made collectively obviously with my colleagues and I will express that.”

In her first time in front of the city’s large press corps as speaker, Ms. Mark-Viverito was cautious. She often spoke in generalizations and, unlike her predecessor or Mr. de Blasio, declined to call on reporters herself, delegating a press aide to do so. She also refused to delve into specifics about her legislative agenda, other than to express objections to the mayor’s plan to eliminate the ability of council members to dole out discretionary funds, abused in the past by corrupt members.

“I have strongly stated very publicly that I am a supporter of member items and I will continue that on behalf of the City Council,” Ms. Mark-Viverito declared as council members behind her cheered. “So that’s where we are.”

In a nod to her history-making status as the first Hispanic speaker, the councilwoman also fielded several questions in Spanish and even, at one point, answered a question in Spanish and then refused, despite repeated prodding from a NY1 Spanish-language reporter, to also translate her answer into English.

According to one reporter in attendance, Ms. Mark-Viverito had said in Spanish that she did not know when she arrived at City Hall this morning what would happen in terms of votes.

“Speaker prerogative,” Ms. Mark-Viverito, cracking a smile, told the NY1 reporter before moving on to the next question.