Very soon, 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 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 Monday, Mark-Viverito discussing corporate tax breaks when she said, “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 — Viverito, Inez Dickens, Dan Garodnick, James Vacca and Annabel Palma — 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, 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 in 2017 makes him more accountable to fellow members because they could choose to oust him if they’re dissatisfied.
Dan Janison is a Newsday columnist.