The politics behind a Brooklyn race to replace a murdered assemblyman

In New York City, the future of 2nd Ward Councilman Brad Lander’s continued political career depends on who, exactly, wins next Tuesday. Lander and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito are both rising stars in the…

The politics behind a Brooklyn race to replace a murdered assemblyman

In New York City, the future of 2nd Ward Councilman Brad Lander’s continued political career depends on who, exactly, wins next Tuesday.

Lander and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito are both rising stars in the Democratic Party, yet politics in New York tends to be fickle. The New York State Senate, in particular, has had a notoriously partisan relationship with the mayor, with its Republican delegation being fiercely loyal to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Yet even with the Democrats in charge, the relationship between the mayor and the council has sometimes been more tense than his dealings with the state Senate. While Bloomberg was always good to his council members, he’s been known to give a few of them a hard time, like the time the governor agreed to send Bloomberg a few more vacation days, Bloomberg reminded the state’s other legislative body, giving it a rather awkward moment.

Lander is one of those hard-working councilmen that he or Mark-Viverito favors, serving on a committee that has evolved into a somewhat permanent seat in the council. He works hard for his constituents, attending the Saturday farmers market and community meetings. His community involvement was even a topic of interest for his Democratic primary challenger at-large Ray Wachtel: he’s facing charges of sexual assault in the Ithaca city council.

Yet there’s another lawmaking body in New York. The New York City Council’s 25 members serve six-year terms, and all 25 are up for re-election. Before the November election, a panel must select an at-large candidate to succeed councilman Ken Thompson, who was murdered last week. The city council, to decide who is the next at-large councilman, will pick a candidate from anywhere in New York City, rather than from Brooklyn, as it does now. This week, rumors have surfaced that Brooklyn voters may have two at-large councilmen fighting for the spot, which could help some Democrats win their district’s nomination. Mark-Viverito, along with a handful of other high-level Democratic politicians, is reportedly on the council’s shortlist to potentially be the council candidate from Brooklyn.

Mayor Bill de Blasio may also be playing a bigger role in this year’s council races. The next council speaker will take over the mayor’s power over the council committees, and for some councils, it could be a make-or-break deal. If the 2014 council speaker, Dan Garodnick, were a candidate for the top post, for example, then that would have directly affected who won the Brooklyn district that handles gambling concerns for de Blasio.

Whoever wins the top Democratic slot at-large, or takes over as speaker, might influence how the next council speaker (likely Lander) will shape the council, because a council speaker has to deal with executive proposals, school issues, local issues, zoning requirements, and budgeting. A mayor in New York City, though, has only one vote. Still, last year’s president of the city council, Julissa Ferreras, told Metro in an interview that the mayor is “seen as much a player in the council as the majority leader.” So even though the mayor’s relationship with Mark-Viverito has recently been, shall we say, strained, Lander might be in luck. The speaker chose him as her deputy speaker two years ago, and is influential with her committee chairs.

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