A close ally of Bill de Blasio, Melissa Mark-Viverito of East Harlem, Wednesday won New York's City Council speakership, strengthening the new mayor's hand in pushing through a "progressive" agenda.
A former union organizer, the Puerto-Rico-born Mark-Viverito, 44, was elected by the unanimous voice vote. She becomes the first Latina to lead the 51-member council.
De Blasio had lobbied hard for Mark-Viverito, personally calling council members and convening meetings to help pick off support from her main competitor, Dan Garodnick of Manhattan's East Side.
"We will unite to fight to raise the minimum wage for low-wage workers at fast-food restaurants, car washes and airports [and] for our undocumented immigrants who are fighting for a pathway to citizenship," Mark-Viverito said in her victory speech.
De Blasio and Mark-Viverito are closely paired ideologically, said Doug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College's School of Public Affairs.
"You've got synergies," Muzzio said. "There was a collaboration between [former Council Speaker Christine] Quinn and [former Mayor Michael] Bloomberg but this is an order of magnitude different."
Mark-Viverito sought in addressing the council to assuage critics who worry that her ties to de Blasio could jeopardize the body's ability to check and balance mayoral power.
"We will unite to hold the administration and mayor accountable," she said.
Mark-Viverito's victory was guaranteed when Garodnick dropped out and conceded.
She won despite negative press on ethics -- failing to disclose rental income to the city Conflicts of Interest Board. Some of her positions put her to de Blasio's left, such as her support for voting rights for noncitizens. She has also faced questions over her past failure to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in council meetings. In recent months, she started doing so.
In defeat, Garodnick voiced concern that Mark-Viverito's first appointments -- a half dozen members to the rules committee -- were all early supporters of hers.
"The balance of power of New York City is already so far weighted in favor of the mayor. You need a legislative branch that is serving as an active check," Garodnick said.
Mark-Viverito later said that the committee composition was temporary and there was time to change it.
Speaking in Albany, where he traveled for the governor's state of the state address, de Blasio was elated at the choice.
"Now, if you know Melissa, you also know that she's a very independent person. And I think we're going to agree on a lot of things because we have a similar philosophy, and there'll be times we disagree, and I know that she will fight energetically for what she believes is right," de Blasio said.
Mark-Viverito overcame a lacked of support from most county party leaders, who in the past played key roles in choosing speakers. Assemblyman Carl Heastie of the Bronx and Rep. Joe Crowley of Queens, opposed her. Only Frank Seddio of Brooklyn supported Mark-Viverito.
Kenneth Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, said that her success despite a lack of unified county party support represented a "sea change" in the historic balance of power.
"This, I think represents more of the decline of the traditional urban machines and the rise of a different kind of politics," Sherrill said.With Ivan Pereira
and Emily Ngo
Profile of Melissa Mark-Viverito,44
Born in Puerto Rico
Education: Columbia University, degree in political science; Baruch College, masters of public administration.
- Worked as a labor organizer for 1199 SEIU.
- Volunteered for the presidential campaigns of John Kerry and Howard Dean.
- Served as a community board member in Manhattan.
- First elected to the City Council in 2005.