Speaker Hopefuls Don’t Know Exactly How They’ll Choose a Speaker

Several of the candidates  for council speaker met a forum at New York Law School last night.

Several of the candidates for council speaker met a forum at New York Law School last night.

The candidates for City Council speaker aren’t sure exactly how to pick a winner. 

Several of the pols vying for the city’s second most powerful post were stumped at a Manhattan forum last night when an audience member asked about the specific process by which their 51-member body will go about choosing the next speaker in January.

“There has to be a consensus among the members before anything else,” Councilwoman Annabel Palma began.

“Is there a secret ballot process? I mean, do you actually fill out slips of paper and vote? How do you do it?” asked the forum’s moderator, Susan Lerner, director of Common Cause New York.

“Well so far these’s been a lot of discussions between members,” Ms. Palma, seemingly unsure, answered. “The members decide who they’ll be comfortable with, that process in terms of voting will take place.”

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Inez Dickens raised the possibility of a secret ballot as an alternative to the typically open vote.

“Many are asking for a secret ballot and not a roll -call ballot and so the members will have to decide between–” said Ms. Dickens, before a third speaker candidate, Councilman Mark Weprin interjected.

“If a member of the audience has an answer to this, we’d really like it, actually. January 8, at 12-noon, we’re going to elect a new speaker. What happens between now and then is anyone’s guess,” Mr. Weprin jumped in. “Honestly, we don’t really know the process.”

The other candidates on stage did not answer before Ms. Lerner continued on to her next question.

If recent history is any guide, the vote early next year will be little more than a formality. When Christine Quinn became speaker in early 2006, the actual vote in the council chamber–it was not done by secret ballot–was in essence a coronation. She received a standing ovation when she entered the chamber and then a fellow council member officially nominated her for speaker so the 51 members could vote by roll call for her. Two members seconded her nomination and a chorus of yeas followed. The lone dissenting voice was Councilman Charles Barron, according to the New York Times. He abstained from the vote.

Consensus on Ms. Quinn was reached a day before the actual vote. Throughout November and December of 2005, Ms. Quinn and then-Councilman Bill de Blasio (now the mayor-elect) lobbied their fellow members and powerful Democratic county organizations for support. The Queens and Bronx organizations backed Ms. Quinn, ensuring she had the majority she needed–26 votes–to become speaker. Once this, behind closed doors, became clear, Mr. de Blasio conceded and urged council members to vote for Ms. Quinn, which they did.

Now, at least one City Council bloc is reportedly debating whether they should back their candidate by secret ballot–possibly freeing members from external pressure on the vote. Mr. Weprin last night implied the process, this time around, may look a bit different but predicted it will involve an open vote.

“We’re in some uncharted territory so we’re not exactly sure but on that day we’re going to proclaim who we’re voting for and I think it has to be done out loud on January 8 and that’s when we’ll vote,” Mr. Weprin said.

“So stay tuned.”

Speaker Hopefuls Don’t Know Exactly How They’ll Choose a Speaker