The New York City Council chose as its speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Puerto Rico-born Democrat who represents East Harlem and the Bronx and supports higher wages and more social-service programs.
A co-founder of the council’s 20-member progressive caucus, Mark-Viverito, 44, becomes the first Hispanic to lead the council. Her election followed a two-month campaign among as many as seven candidates that included public forums and private conversations with Democratic county chairmen and union leaders. Mark-Viverito was an early backer of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 election campaign, and the new mayor supported her bid to become speaker.
“She’ll do a great job; we have very similar values and goals for this city,” de Blasio said at a Jan. 7 City Hall news conference. “But I guarantee there will be a lot of independence.”
She defeated Councilman Dan Garodnick, a Democrat from Manhattan’s Upper East Side who said he offered more independence from the mayor than Mark-Viverito does. Both support de Blasio’s signature program to place a dedicated tax on high-income earners to pay for universal all-day pre-kindergarten and after-school programs from teens.
Garodnick withdrew today when it became clear that Mark-Viverito had at least 26 votes, enough to win the speakership.
Mark-Viverito will have the power to determine which bills are voted upon. She will also control the council’s negotiations over the city’s $72 billion budget and oversee land-use decisions in the five boroughs. A councilwoman since 2006, she has opposed nonunion businesses and hotels, and wants developers to guarantee more affordable housing, one of de Blasio’s key issues.
“We unite for a more equal and just New York for everyone,” she said today, while vowing to hold de Blasio to his campaign promises. “We will unite to create affordable housing, improve our educational system and help those who have fallen on hard times. We’ll unite to fight to raise the minimum wage for low-wage workers at fast-food restaurants, car washes and airports.”
In a legislative body where 48 of the 51 members are Democrats, almost all say they share de Blasio’s agenda, yet Mark-Viverito has advocated some policies that the mayor opposes, such as giving resident non-citizens the right to vote in local elections. She also has favored setting higher wages for workers in any company that’s received city tax abatements or low-cost financing, and has opposed attempts by non-unionized Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to win approval to do business in the city.
Mark-Viverito, a graduate of Columbia University, also holds a master of public administration degree from Baruch College of City University of New York. She worked as an organizer for 1199 SEIU United Health Care Workers’ East, which backed de Blasio’s mayoral candidacy.
She succeeds Christine Quinn, who held the speaker’s post since January 2006. Quinn, 47, was barred by law from seeking re-election to the council, and campaigned unsuccessfully for the Democratic mayoral nomination last year.