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De Blasio Ally Unanimously Elected to Lead City Council

De Blasio Ally Unanimously Elected to Lead City Council
Councilman Daniel Garodnick concedes speaker's race just before election.

After weeks of behind-the-scenes lobbying, Mayor Bill de Blasio and his progressive allies scored an expected victory Wednesday afternoon when Melissa Mark-Viverito, a fierce liberal and third-term councilwoman from East Harlem, was elected to replace Christine Quinn as the next speaker of the City Council.

She is the first Latina to be elected speaker of the Council, which is the second most powerful position within city government.

Mark-Viverito's chief competition, Councilman Daniel Garodnick of Manhattan, conceded his bid as he walked into the Council Chambers nearly 30 minutes after the meeting was scheduled to begin. He had met with a group of supporters Wednesday morning before the meeting, Capital New York reported.

As he walked in, he hugged Mark-Viverito and said, "Congratulations." The room erupted in loud applause and it appeared as though the Council had struck a unified deal.

"In the spirit of strengthening the Council, which animated my candidacy from the start, I now formally concede to the next Speaker of the City Council -- my colleague Melissa Mark-Viverito," Garodnick said in a statement. "I look forward to working with Speaker Mark-Viverito and to helping her to ensure that we can deliver a sound and responsible government for all New Yorkers. She is a smart and committed public servant and we have worked extremely well together in the past."

After council members were sworn in, Councilman Ritchie Torres of the Bronx first nominated Mark-Viverito for the speakership.

"I rise today to nominate someone who has the vision and the record to be a great leader of our body," he said. "Someone who has never been afraid to speak truth to power ... Melissa Mark-Vivierito is someone who has the strength of character, wisdom of experience and principled values to be our Speaker."

Councilwoman Inez Barron of Brooklyn seconded the motion.

Mark-Viverito wiped away tears as council members ran through a roll-call vote.

Mark-Viverito has become known within the Council to advocate for immigration and labor rights, as well as affordable housing and greater equality across New York City -- a message reminiscent of de Blasio’s campaign.

Her chief speakership competition came from Garodnick, who represents Manhattan’s fourth district and was consistently unable to generate enough support, despite having landed the endorsements of powerful county leaders in the Bronx and Queens. Real estate executives also backed Garodnick, according to reports from Capital New York.

But Frank Seddio, Brooklyn’s Democratic leader who had once supported Garodnick’s bid, switched gears in December, launching a wave of momentum in the direction of Mark-Viverito.

In addition, Mayor de Blasio called Council members individually and urged them to support Mark-Viverito’s bid, saying he needed someone who would help implement his agenda, according to multiple reports from The New York Times.

By Dec. 18, Mark-Viverito – an early and enthusiastically vocal supporter of de Blasio’s agenda – issued a statement of thanks, declaring that she had secured 30 votes within the Council – more than the 26 that are needed to be elected speaker. (Beginning this month, there are 48 Democrats and three Republicans sitting on the Council.)

“Today is the culmination of over two decades of my work at the grassroots, in nonprofit organizations, in labor and as a public servant,” she said in a statement.

But de Blasio has come under fire for meddling with Council politics – seeming to establish the sort of relationship he has long criticized Quinn and Michael Bloomberg for sharing.

“They’re going to make their presence felt, and they’re going to maintain their independence, I don’t have a doubt about it,” de Blasio told The New York Times when asked about his influence in the speaker’s race.

The newspaper announced its endorsement in favor of Garodnick for speaker earlier this week, saying: “It’s troubling enough having a speaker who is handpicked by the mayor, as Mr. de Blasio liked to point out when he used to ridicule Christine Quinn as a tool of Michael Bloomberg. But there are also the questions raised in recent news reports about Ms. Mark-Viverito.”

The article went on to cite that Mark-Viverito had failed to report any rental income from a building that she owns in East Harlem, as well as the lawsuit she is signed onto that seeks to nullify “co-locations” of charter schools and public schools, including one she says she helped finance.

The Daily News and the New York Post also discouraged Council members who planned on voting for Mark-Viverito.

Still, she had earned the support of unions, including the 1199 S.E.I.U. health care workers union and the Working Families Party.

Mark-Viverito was first elected in 2005 to represent District 8, which includes El Barrio/East Harlem, Manhattan Valley and Mott Haven. During her second term, she served as chair of the Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee and co-chair of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, which encompasses 20 council members.

She was re-elected this past November, capturing 94 percent of the votes in her district.

After being raised in Puerto Rico, Mark-Viverito earned her undergraduate degree from Columbia University and went on to get her Master of Public Administration from Baruch College, City University of New York in 1995.