City Council Leadership Digs in Heels on Member Items

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer. (Screengrab: NY1)

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer. (Screengrab: NY1)

Mayor Bill de Blasio still wants to ban member items in the City Council, but the fellow Democrats who lead the body are ready for a fight.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, the Democratic majority leader, said last night that Mr. de Blasio would ultimately fail to outlaw the discretionary funding granted to individual members.

“It’s vitally important. I believe in it, I believe it’s going to happen. I don’t believe the mayor is going to stop this from happening,” Mr. Van Bramer, appearing with three other council members, said on NY1’s Inside City Hall.

“We are working very closely with the mayor. We are all progressives as [Councilman] David [Greenfield] said. There are some places where we will disagree in a professional and appropriate manner–this is clearly one of them.”

Each council member is given a relatively small amount of money to dole out to community groups and other entities in his or her district. The dollar figure varies for each council member.

Under the previous speaker, Christine Quinn, critics charged the process was highly politicized and resulted in Quinn allies having more money to dispense to their pet projects.

The new left-leaning council under Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is attempting to democratize the process, doling out funding more on a basis of need. But good government groups and Mr. de Blasio have long questioned the member items process, arguing that it breeds corruption and should be replaced with dedicated funding in the city budget.

Mr. de Blasio, a former Brooklyn councilman himself, never opposed member items when he served in the council. But once he was elected to higher office, he began calling for the abolishing of discretionary funding.

“Look, the council and I agree to disagree. We have a different perspective on this,” Mr. de Blasio said in May. “I do think it’s time to end member items. I think that’s the smart path going forward. But I also respect that the council has its own prerogatives and I respect them as a legislative body and we have to work in partnership. So we’ll continue to work on that issue.”

Despite his rhetoric, Mr. de Blasio has not moved yet to ban member items. And with budget season winding down, Mr. de Blasio may be running out of time this year.

“Our speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, has been very clear from day one that she believes, as I believe all of us, in the power and goodness of member items,” Mr. Van Bramer said.