Melissa Mark-Viverito Is Set to Become the City Council’s First Minority Speaker


When the week started, we, the voting public, could only guess who the next New York City Council Speaker would be. There were seven candidates, some more serious than others.

Monday night, though, news broke that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio had put his thumb on the speaker race scale like no NYC mayor had before, lobbying councilmembers to support his choice, Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem.

On Tuesday, the city seemed poised for a showdown as Democratic county leaders professed their support for Daniel Garodnick, who represents a chunk of Manhattan’s East Side (incidentally, just south of Mark-Viverito’s territory). And you couldn’t help but wonder whether de Blasio might lose his first political battle as mayor.

But it appeared all over by Wednesday night, when Mark-Viverito essentially declared victory three weeks before the vote. “I know that my fellow members will work with me in the City Council to create a more inclusive legislative body where every member’s voice is heard and validated,” she said. Attached to the statement was a list of 30 councilmembers supporting Mark-Viverito for speaker.

As long as 26 of them cast their vote for her on January 8, Mark-Viverito, who is Puerto Rican, will become the first person of color to serve as New York City Council Speaker.

Garodnick hasn’t yet conceded.

“It is premature to declare victory,” he said in a statement, according to the New York Observer. “We are going to elect a Speaker on January 8, and I hope to earn the votes of my colleagues then.”

Frank Seddio, Brooklyn’s Democratic chairman, who had reportedly backed Garodnick, threw his name behind Mark-Viverito on Wednesday.

Assuming things play out as expected next month, Mark-Viverito’s speakership helps cement the new and sudden power of progressives in city hall. Mark-Vivierito, who was the first city councilmember to endorse de Blasio for mayor, has pushed bills defending immigrants and tenants. Before winning office in 2005, she worked as a director of a nonprofit, the Hispanic Education and Legal Fund, and an organizer for the healthcare workers union, 1199 SEIU. In 2000 she volunteered for the Howard Dean campaign.

The Progressive Caucus’s explicit unity in the speaker race made de Blasio’s mission to get Mark-Viverito the top job on the council a bit easier. The caucus, which was born in 2010 as a counterweight against Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had a big election day this year and will jump from 11 to 20 members when the new term starts.

Jumaane Williams, a co-founder of the Progressive Caucus who had also been running for speaker, was among the councilmembers backing Mark-Viverito.

“I extend my warm congratulations to Council Member Mark-Viverito,” he said in a statement of support. “I am happy that the Progressive Bloc, along with Brooklyn county leadership, and each Brooklyn delegation member have come to a consensus.”

A few days after the election, Councilmember Brad Lander, who co-chairs the caucus with Mark-Viverito, told the New York Times that they were committed to voting for speaker as a group. A month later, that bloc has appeared to have boxed out the Democratic party chairmen, the traditional anointers of speakers.