Council Members Move to Limit Next Speaker’s Power

Councilman Brad Lander speaking this afternoon. (Photo: William Alatriste New York City Council)

Councilman Brad Lander speaking this afternoon. (Photo: William Alatriste New York City Council)

The next speaker of the New York City Council is going to have far less power than Christine Quinn, if a large bloc of members have their way.

More than a dozen incumbent members and likely-to-be-elected Democratic nominees gathered on the steps of City Hall this afternoon to press for sweeping reforms to council rules that would reduce the speaker’s power by eliminating many of the mechanisms used to keep members in line.

“This is not an indictment of any one speakership. This is not an indictment of any one person,” Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams said.

Among the reforms–which have now been endorsed by 30 current and expected members–is a push to add transparency to member items by distributing them equally or according to an objective formula based on how many people live in a district or their economic needs. Under Ms. Quinn, members have charged the allocation of money is largely political, with Ms. Quinn punishing those who cross her by withholding funds. (Ms. Quinn has repeatedly denied this.)

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who has long accused Ms. Quinn of cutting her member item money because her office sent out a premature budget-related press release, said the reforms have been a long time coming.

“We’re calling for clear transparency. Right now, too much politics goes into who gets how much money for discretionary funds. It needs to be equitable. It needs to be fair. And it certainly needs to be transparent,” she said, arguing that New Yorkers deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

The group is also pressing to give chairs more power over their committees and to reform the legislative process so that the speaker can’t prevent legislation from making it to the floor when it is supported by a large majority of members.

The measures have been endorsed by many of the names being floated as speaker candidates, including Manhattan Councilman Dan Garodnick, Mark Weprin, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mr. Williams, though Inez Dickens and Jimmy Vacca are both absent from the list. But Councilman Brad Lander, who spearheaded the press conference, deflected questions about whether the reforms could, in fact, weaken the speaker’s position and therefore weaken the council by making it less united,

“We believe … that these reforms will actually make the council stronger, not weaker,” he said, pointing to the fact that 30 people had signed onto the reforms without any need for coercing. “There might be people who believe that we would be better served with a council that was less Democratic, less fair, less inclusive, that left empowered members to do their individual jobs in their district and chair their committees.”

He added, “But I think most New Yorkers know that we can actually have a strong legislative body that can be led, that can act together, with more principles of reform and inclusion.”

Council Members Move to Limit Next Speaker’s Power