Three Things to Expect in Speaker's Race

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The 51 members of the City Council pick their new leader Wednesday and the odds on favorite is Mayor Bill de Blasio's preferred candidate, Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito. The deal isn't done yet though, and a smaller group of members still plan to throw their support behind the underdog, Dan Garodnick. Here is what to watch for in the Speaker's race.

1. A Progressive Power Play

Like the Democratic mayoral primary, the race for City Council Speaker started with a crowded field of candidates. The Council’s powerful Progressive caucus, along with the Working Families party, and unions like 32 BJ and 1199 SEIU, have been organizing for years to make the Speaker selection process more transparent and return it to the hands of the members. Even when the idea of Bill de Blasio as mayor seemed like just a progressive pipe dream, they were organizing and had outlined a policy agenda that included participatory government, police reforms like the Community Safety Act and plans to address economic inequality.

This fall, the Progressive caucus decided to back one candidate, after vetting them all. They also attempted to negotiate with county party leaders, who have traditionally used their own weight – and that of their members – to back the ultimate Speaker candidate.

But Mayor de Blasio outmaneuvered them, helping to sway the fence-sitters (and the Brooklyn party leader) by vocally supporting Mark-Viverito’s candidacy. She was the first Council member to endorse his mayoral bid and if/when she wins, it will be in no short measure because of his support.


(Below: Speaker candidate Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito with then Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio after the not guilty verdict in the trial of Trayvon Martin's killer. Brigid Bergin/WNYC)


2. Acts of Treason?

Three weeks ago, Council member Mark-Viverito sent out a press release quoting 30 members who pledged to back her. The release came after Mayor de Blasio helped tip the scales in her favor. Will that block stick together? It's expected to hold up, and may pick up more votes if supporters of Council member Gardonick get too squeamish about staying on a losing team. The roll will be called alphabetically on Wednesday. The magic number is 26. But Gardonick supporters say they have not been swayed to drop their support for him as Speaker, despite the Mayor's outreach to the Bronx delegation on Sunday night.

3. Fallout and Damage Control

After the Council selects its Speaker, the next big questions will be around committee assignments. From Finance to Land Use, Council members are poised to wield significant power and those who opted to support the winner are likely to benefit with plum assignments. Then, after the dust settles, whether in public or private, there will be an effort to bring the Council back together. Ideologically, the members are largely on the same page so the fights will center on politics more than policy.