With his overwhelming victory in the mayor’s race, Bill de Blasio is set to shake up the traditional way the city’s second most powerful position, City Council speaker, is crowned.
The speaker’s race is traditionally dominated by the county Democratic organizations, the leaders of which could easily impact the inside-baseball contest to cobble together the necessary 26 of 51 council members. But with the most decisive citywide electoral victory in recent history, Mr. de Blasio has emerged as an extremely influential voice, according to conversations with a wide range of insiders following the process.
This perhaps gives some candidates without establishment ties a new opportunity.
Notably, Mr. de Blasio is the first Democrat elected mayor in the last 20 years, a span that encompasses the modern era of the speaker’s office; the two most recent mayors, Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani, held far less sway on the outcome. (Before term limits were implemented in 2001, speakers like Peter Vallone Sr. could serve in the job for over a decade.)
And despite his status as a political careerist, Mr. de Blasio owes little to any of the five county Democratic leaders. The three most cohesive counties–Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx–have traditionally traded their unified vote in the speaker’s race in exchange for choice committee chairs and jobs in the City Council bureaucracy. But those three organizations backed Mr. de Blasio’s rivals in the primary, while the two less powerful counties–Manhattan and Staten Island–remained neutral.
“Think about this–Bill de Blasio doesn’t owe any of the county leaders shit. If the leaders wanna make the mayor happy and do him a favor, they’ll listen to him on Melissa Mark-Viverito,” explained a council source involved in the de Blasio campaign. “We’re electing a mayor that none of these power brokers had anything to do with.”
Mr. de Blasio, as mayor-elect, has much that those Democratic leaders want as well.
“He has all the leverage, the county leaders really don’t,” said Kenneth Sherrill, a professor emeritus at Hunter College and longstanding observer of city politics. “He has maximum resources right now because he’s going to make a lot of appointments, do a lot of hiring. Everyone in the City Council has or know people they want to be hired.”
According to a recent New York Post report, Mr. de Blasio is already flexing his new-found political muscle, backing East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, an early de Blasio ally and a liberal firebrand. Ms. Mark-Viverito appeared constantly by Mr. de Blasio’s side at post-primary events, including a visit to an East Harlem school.
While she was once viewed as a long-shot, some council insiders told Politicker that Ms. Mark-Viverito is now a legitimate front-runner for the gig. Other speaker contenders include Mark Weprin, Dan Garodnick, Jimmy Vacca, Annabel Palma and Jumaane Williams, among others.
Mr. de Blasio’s ascendance, however, put another candidacy on life support. Harlem Councilwoman Inez Dickens, once a front-runner and a close ally of the current speaker, Christine Quinn–who lost badly in the primary–saw her status plummet with Mr. de Blasio’s victory and damaging Post reports portraying her as a slumlord. Mr. de Blasio even went out of his way to endorse Ms. Dickens’s opponent in her primary.
Still, the county leaders are not easily dismissed. Congressman Joe Crowley, the Queens county leader, is a high-ranking Democrat in Washington who has historically commanded great loyalty among elected officials in the borough. This means that peeling members from the council’s largest bloc could be challenging.
Further complicating the tableau is the still-emerging Progressive Caucus, a growing group of lefty lawmakers who are partnering with voices inside and outside the traditional establishment, pushing high-minded goals of legislative rules reform and other progressive bills. The group is vying to be a serious player; according to a source close to the caucus, Alison Hirsh, the political director of the building workers’ union, 32BJ, is their lead negotiator.
“There’s been a ferocious reaction by some county leaders to the caucus. It’s seen as a challenge,” explained another source close to the council. “But they may be willing to compromise in a way that makes everyone happy.”
Exactly where and how all of the wheeling-and-dealing will end up is a mystery, but with so many moving parts, it’s viewed as the final race to watch in this year’s wild cycle. The annual Somos el Futuro conference now underway is expected to be a hotbed of speaker’s race politicking.
A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, who is headed to Somos today, did not return a request for comment.