Monday, December 30, 2013


Bill de Blasio's Council Coup

There’s a joke going around among the city’s political reporters: Despite concerns that  Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has moved too slowly to form his administration, the fact is, he’s already named his two most important officials: Bill Bratton for police commissioner and . . . Melissa Mark-Viverito for City Council speaker.
The joke, of course, may be on us: The speaker is supposed to be picked by the council, not the mayor-elect. But in an unusual move, the incoming head of the executive branch blasted himself onto the legislature’s turf, twisted arms there (quite effectively, too) and now seems to have his own hand-picked speaker ready to grab the gavel.
How’s that for irony? The man who overtook current Speaker Chris Quinn in the Democratic mayoral primary largely by suggesting she was Mayor Bloomberg’s toady will soon be a mayor himself — with his own self-chosen go-fer serving as speaker.
The tale speaks volumes about de Blasio’s craftiness — and, perhaps, the way he’ll rule when he takes office: that is, unilaterally. It also suggests that, for better or worse, New Yorkers shouldn’t count on the council to serve as much of a check on de Blasio’s power.
How did he pull it off? Here’s the skinny: After Election Day, the council’s Progressive Caucus believed it had enough members to dominate the council vote and select the next speaker. The choice came down to Mark-Viverito and Dan Garodnick. Mark-Viverito had a 12-9 edge in a straw poll.
The caucus was about to consider its next move at a Dec. 16 meeting when suddenly the meeting was canceled. De Blasio was then “activated” and began leaning on key players. Meanwhile, the heads of the Queens, Bronx and Brooklyn Democratic organizations had agreed to endorse Garodnick (county chairs usually play a big role in deciding the speaker). But Brooklyn Chairman Frank Seddio reneged and instead backed Mark-Viverito, the choice of fellow Brooklynite de Blasio.
To cement the coup, de Blasio phoned a Republican council member, Eric Ulrich, who’d earlier insisted that Mark-Viverito as speaker would be a “disaster.” Only de Blasio and Ulrich know what was said. But after the call, Ulrich had a sudden change of heart and magically backed de Blasio’s choice. (Some think he was offered a committee chairmanship in exchange for his support, though Ulrich denies that. Stay tuned.)
In any event, Mark-Viverito released a victory statement on Dec. 18. Progressive Caucus members were expected to back her or suffer the consequences.
Council members were livid. Even those who had given her their support originally felt blind-sided and double-crossed. They use terms like “hijacked” to describe the putsch and complain of having been “betrayed.” (They speak off-the-record, of course, so as not to cross either the mayor-elect or the likely new speaker, Mark-Viverito.)
Says one observer darkly, “[De Blasio] wants to break any alternative power structure that would prevent him from turning the City Council into a mayoral agency, far more so than in the relationship between Bloomberg and Quinn.”
None of which sounds encouraging for a city that relies on a government of checks and balances.
No, this isn’t the first time such a thing has happened in the history of politics. In Albany two decades ago, then-newly elected Republican Gov. George Pataki helped oust Republican Senate Majority Leader Ralph Marino in favor of Joe Bruno.
Unless, that is, it remembers how to play hardball politics and stand up for itself — after having gone 12 years with a billionaire mayor who often used his wealth to render the game moot.But the state has a bicameral Legislature, and the Assembly remained in Democratic hands, with its own leader (Shelly Silver). That guaranteed some counterweight between the branches. The council, bycontrast, will have no independence whatsoever if de Blasio’s choice prevails, as expected, in the council’s Jan. 8 vote.
The speakership issue, of course, might not yet be settled. “Plans for Mark-Viverito’s coronation” are premature, Queens’ party chairman Rep. Joe Crowley, told The Post.
But if de Blasio’s choice prevails, the irony will grow richer. “We’re resolutely committed to building a City Council that . . . functions more democratically,” Progressive Caucus chairman Brad Lander declared last month.
Maybe so. But based on the speaker-selection process, they sure have a long way to go.

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