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Showdown near on next NYC Council Speaker

City Council member, Melissa Mark-Viverito speaking with reporters

City Council member, Melissa Mark-Viverito speaking with reporters at City Hall. (Dec. 19, 2013) Credit: Agaton Strom

The New York City Council Wednesday picks its next speaker -- the city's most powerful legislative post -- and Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio, is favored to win barring last-minute defections.

Mark-Viverito, 44, of East Harlem, declared victory three weeks ago, citing pledges from 31 of 51 council members.

Her rival, Councilman Dan Garodnick, 41, of Manhattan's East Side, has maintained he can sway enough colleagues before the vote, scheduled for midday.

De Blasio has signaled his preference for Mark-Viverito and lobbied council members on her behalf. "I think we have very similar values and goals for this city," he said Tuesday.

Garodnick backers say he would provide more independent leadership of the overwhelmingly Democratic council and bristled over de Blasio's role.

"This is worse than Tammany Hall!" said Councilwoman Inez Dickens of Central Harlem, a Garodnick supporter.

The speaker sets the chamber's agenda, decides whether a bill goes to the floor for a vote and picks powerful committee heads and other leadership posts -- which each comes with bonuses worth up to tens of thousands of dollars.

"You've never had this kind of public battle over an office that is not elected by the public but has tremendous power," said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant.

Mark-Viverito has faced scrutiny over ethics. She admitted recently she had failed to disclose rental income to the city's Conflicts of Interest Board. Her spokesman called it an "unintentional mistake" and de Blasio defended her, saying he's sure she'll "make it right."

Garodnick's backers have complained of hardball tactics by Mark-Viverito's supporters.

"Outside players have used fear tactics in an attempt to hijack this body," said Councilwoman Annabel Palma of the Bronx. She said several of Garodnick's 20 council supporters have been threatened with budget cuts to their districts. Palma's office declined to say who made those threats.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer of western Queens, in Mark-Viverito's camp, countered: "No one has leaned on me or requested anything of me or promised anything to me."

De Blasio has denied strong-arming the council, and Tuesday swatted away comparisons between his alliance and the one former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had with former Speaker Christine Quinn, which de Blasio criticized during the campaign as too close.

"I guarantee you there will be a lot of independence," he said.

With Emily Ngo

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