Bill de Blasio and the City Council: Family feud time?
Very soon, New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will need to negotiate budgets and laws with the City Council, where his own electoral career began. For better or worse, this means City Hall's newest power players are likely to start out with an unusual level of familiarity.
During the second of his two council terms -- ending with his election to public advocate in 2009 -- Democrat de Blasio served alongside five of the six members who are now contending to lead the body, including the widely perceived front-runner, Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Bronx, Manhattan).
Not only does the new mayor come from the same party as the council speaker for the first time in two decades, he'll take office already knowing well the roster of players. (De Blasio once ran and lost for council speaker himself.)
As a result, the tensions that inevitably arise between the executive and legislative branches will more likely resemble a family feud this time than a partisan split. In politics, as in families, closeness can mean harmony, or friction -- or one and then the other.
Previous mayors and speakers of the past 20 years began as relative strangers. Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani had never been in city government before dealing with entrenched Democratic Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. And then-Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg hadn't been in government at all before confronting rookie Democratic Speaker Gifford Miller, who later tried to run against Bloomberg.
At a public forum for speaker candidates in the Bronx Monday night, Mark-Viverito was answering a question about corporate tax breaks when she mentioned "I was the first council member to endorse council member -- I'm sorry, Mayor-elect -- Bill de Blasio." She went on to say de Blasio has vowed to scrutinize such breaks. Later, Mark-Viverito explicitly said her longtime working relationship with de Blasio would enhance her speakership.
Remarkably, five of six speaker candidates at the forum -- Mark-Viverito, Inez Dickens of Harlem, Dan Garodnick of Manhattan's East Side, and James Vacca and Annabel Palma of the Bronx -- were eligible for election this year only because of departing speaker Christine Quinn's deal with Bloomberg to extend incumbents' term limits by four years. Of the group, who must all leave in four years, Mark-Viverito in particular was seen as a Quinn nemesis, Dickens as an ally.
The other candidate, first-term Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Queens), says his own eligibility to run once more for re-election in 2017 -- and thus stay on the scene -- makes him more accountable to fellow members because they could choose to oust him if they're dissatisfied.
"It is a good thing for the body that I'd have to answer to those members," Weprin told the standing-room audience at the New Settlement Community Center in the southwest Bronx. "I'm not running for another elected office, I'm not running for mayor."
One source of wider interest -- beyond what the speaker candidates are publicly and privately promising fellow members for their votes -- is the degree to which the council will choose to act independently of the mayor.
Said Garodnick: "We all support the election of our new mayor. We're really excited, and we want him to succeed. But we also have to do respectful oversight of his agencies and make sure they're there operating properly, and we are in the position to do that, under the charter."