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Progressive Caucus Emerges From Diverse NYC Council

Monday, March 29, 2010

Last November, several city council incumbents went down to defeat. All totaled, a quarter of the 51 member body includes newcomers. And as WNYC's Bob Hennelly reports, even though the rookies have been in for just a few months, they're already shaking things up.

REPORTER: At a recent rally on the steps of City Hall to mandate city businesses provide at least five sick days per year the freshman class was well represented. Staten Island freshman council member Deborah Rose was elected with the help of the Working Families Party.

ROSE: You know this bill will effect the lives of over a million workers who know have to go to work sick. It's a human rights issue.

REPORTER: The bill would also permit parents to take a sick day when they had to tend to a sick parent or child. The crowd of 100 activists really like what council newcomer Julissa Ferreras from Queens had to say.

FERRERAS: I stand here today with a cold but I understand that I can take the day off, and it is unfortunate that the person who just sold me some chicken soup can't have the same rights as me.

REPORTER: Meanwhile, behind the scenes seven of the Council's newest members -- including Rose and Ferreras -- have become the backbone of what they call the Progressive Caucus. The unapologetically left oriented faction includes five veterans and is led by second-term councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito and newcomer Brad Lander. Brooklyn freshman councilman Jumaane Williams says the caucus will be a force to be reckoned with as the city sorts out its budget priorities.

WILLIAMS: When government wants to fund something they find the money to do it. Unfortunately when times come as these we start balancing it on the backs of people that can't really afford it.

REORTER: City Council Speaker Quinn has been known to run a pretty tight ship, so how does she feel about the new caucus made up of new and returning members?

QUINN: I am thrilled by any grouping that council members put together that helps them do their job better.

REPOTER: Even before the current council was sworn in its election marked a key milestone. For the first time in its history the majority of members of the council is either black, Hispanic or Asian. Now there are signs that in addition to greater ethnic and racial diversity last November's results may be producing a wider ideological range.

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