Rebellion in the Council!

The Observer reported last week that at least six City Council members are considering a legislative mutiny against Speaker Christine Quinn, the front-runner for the Democratic Party’s mayoral nomination.

According to The Observer’s account, the rebellious politicians may defy the speaker’s wishes by bringing measures she opposes to a floor vote. One member, Peter Vallone Jr. of Queens, has actually begun the process. He wants to bring two bills to a floor vote despite Ms. Quinn’s opposition. In order to achieve that goal, he needs the support of seven colleagues for a parliamentary procedure known as a motion to discharge. That maneuver, if successful, would force a bill out of committee and send it to the full Council for a vote.

The speaker of the City Council has extraordinary power over legislation, as Mr. Vallone knows better than most. His father, Peter Vallone Sr., became the first speaker in the Council’s history in 1986—before him, the Council’s top banana bore the title of majority leader, while the City Council president served as the body’s presiding officer. (The Council president’s office was abolished in the early 1990s.)

Every speaker since the elder Mr. Vallone has had the power to kill legislation simply by assigning it to a committee and letting it die of neglect. But in one of his first acts as speaker, Mr. Vallone allowed a gay rights bill to come to the floor for a vote despite his personal opposition to the measure. The bill, which outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation, passed with ease.

In a similar vein, Ms. Quinn announced that she will allow a vote on legislation that would make it easier for people to sue the Police Department if they believe they have been racially profiled. Ms. Quinn opposes the bill, a sensible position, but she has decided not to let it linger in committee.

That decision has emboldened colleagues like Mr. Vallone. But the discharge option is the equivalent of open warfare against the Speaker—not the sort of battle a mayoral candidate wants to fight. It’s one thing for the speaker to allow a vote on her terms. It’s quite another to force a bill to the floor, as Mr. Vallone and others are contemplating.

This mutiny in the making is bound to affect the mayoral race. And Ms. Quinn’s skill in addressing the situation will speak volumes about the kind of mayor she might make. Rebellion in the Council!