Tish James Victory Could Shake Up Speaker’s Race

Councilwoman Tish James. (Photo: William Alatriste)

Councilwoman Tish James. (Photo: William Alatriste) (Photo: William Alatriste for NYC Council)

Councilwoman Tish James’s victory last night in the public advocate’s runoff could send significant reverberations through the race to become the next speaker of the City Council.

With the ascent of Bill de Blasio and Scott Stringer in the mayoral and comptroller races respectively, there had been increasing concerns among some in the Democratic Party that all of the levers of power in one of the most diverse cities in the nation would be controlled by white men.

If Ms. James’s opponent, State Senator Daniel Squadron, had won, many predicted serious pressure to choose a minority speaker. Councilman Jumaane Williams, who is himself eyeing the job, previously said that electing the city’s first speaker of color should be a “priority.”

But Ms. James, a strong black female voice, immediately adds diversity to the Democratic ticket. This leaves a wider opening for councilmen like Mark Weprin, Dan Garodnick and Jimmy Vacca, who have all been waging active campaigns for the speaker’s gig.

“He’s been on solid ground,” one Garodnick supporter told Politicker. “Last night’s results might have made that ground cement strong.”

“Tish winning really kept the game going. It kept the white guys in the game,” said another Democrat close to the speaker’s race. “If she didn’t win, it really wasn’t going to happen for them.”

The white candidates also remain in contention because strong black and Latino candidates, preferable for many council members, have yet to emerge, insiders say. Among those interested in the job, in addition to Mr. Williams, are Annabel Palma, Inez Dickens and Melissa Mark-Viverito, each carrying strengths and evident weaknesses. Mr. Dickens, for instance, lost her status as a front-runner when the New York Post battered her credibility as a landlord and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whom she loudly backed for mayor, lost.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras has also been floated–yet another name on an ever-growing list of potential contenders. However, insiders say she has not been actively stumping for the post.

But three hopefuls who might most benefit from Ms. James’s win remained mum.

Mr. Weprin, who attended Ms. James’s victory party at Copacabana and was spotted schmoozing and celebrating, brushed off any talk of Ms. James’s impact on the race. “Over next five weeks I’m focused on getting Bill de Blasio elected mayor,” he told Politicker.

Mr. Vacca was similarly circumspect. “I have always believed that the members of the Council will pick the next speaker that they feel would be best for the job,” he said.

Mr. Garodnick declined to comment.

Additional reporting by Jill Colvin.

Tish James Victory Could Shake Up Speaker’s Race