In Early Push, Left-Leaning Group Courts City Council Hopefuls

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A left-leaning group of City Council members is early and aggressively courting Council hopefuls months before the election in which nearly half the Council’s seats will be up for grabs.

The Council’s left-leaning Progress Caucus has endorsed two candidates and are targeting as many as 10 seats being vacated by conservative politicians who are being term-limited out, officials say.

“When you have 23 out of 51 members that are coming in new, there’s an opportunity there to really look at all the seats that are open, look at the candidates that are emerging, and be influential in that process,” said Manhattan Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, the co-leader of the Progressive Caucus.

In backing candidates, the caucus hopes to increase its membership, giving it greater political heft to not only pursue its policy agenda, but making it a stronger voice in the upcoming battle over who will be the next speaker.

The group has outlined a 13-point agenda (see document below) they hope to enact after helping to elect new members to their caucus in the fall.

In a document titled “13 Bold Progressive Ideas for NYC in 2013” the caucus outlines in detail its policy priorities. The bullet-points range from a continued to push for paid sick leave to a progressive real estate tax system that would likely mean higher rates for the wealthy.

“Essentially you’ve got the traditional progressive institutions, and the current progressive institutions, making a push in the aftermath of 12 years of Bloomberg and 8 years of Giuliani,” said political analyst Doug Muzzio.

One of the races targeted by the Caucus is the one to replace Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr. in Queens. Costa Constantinides, an aide to Queens Councilmember James Gennaro, has the Caucus’ backing. He says he supports its efforts and hopes to join their ranks should he be elected to the council in November.

“I’m a progressive. I’m a middle class-values guy,” Constantinides said. “I want to make government work for everyone.”

Constantinides’ race is also strategically important. Thanks to term limits, nearly two dozen councilmembers are out of jobs this fall. Vallone is one of them. He also happens to be a moderate Democrat who has had policy disagreements with the caucus. Losing Vallone removes one obstacle to the caucus’ agenda; having an avowed progressive eager to join their ranks in that seat doubles the political advantage of the race.

The caucus is not alone in its push. Like-minded labor unions affiliated with the Working Families Party are working alongside the Caucus to back candidates. Constantinides, for example, has secured the backing of the Hotel Trades Council and Communication Workers of America Local 1180.

The Progressive Caucus and its labor allies are the first to stage such an aggressive push, but they’re not the only ones paying attention to the Council races this early.

Nancy Ploeger, president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, said that although her members in the business community are primarily focused on the mayor’s race, the positions taken by council members remain important.

"There has to be a balance and if the balance is tipped one way or the other it's really going to upset the apple cart,” she said. Ploeger and other business-oriented groups such as the Partnership for New York have been staunchly opposed to a number of the priorities of the caucus, including the current push for paid sick days.

The Caucus will have an official roll out of its policy agendas in the coming weeks. The group also says it plans additional endorsements soon.

13 Bold Progressive Ideas