Even by the standards of New York City politics, Mark-Viverito stands on the left-wing fringe. During her first seven years on the council, she stood for, but did not recite, the Pledge of Allegiance. (Her spokesperson claimed that, having grown up in Puerto Rico, Mark-Viverito was “unfamiliar” with the one-sentence pledge.) In 2010, the future speaker circulated a petition calling for the release of Oscar López Rivera, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy for his leadership role in FALN, the Puerto Rican paramilitary group that bombed Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan, among other targets, in the 1970s. Mark-Viverito counts among her friends Evo Morales, the socialist president of Bolivia, whom she visited in 2008. She also participated in the protest movement to expel the U.S. Navy from Vieques in Puerto Rico, where she was arrested, along with other prominent progressives such as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Al Sharpton. Mark-Viverito’s family owns a 12-acre estate abutting the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, from which the Naval Forces Southern Command oversaw the controversial bombing tests. Perhaps the council speaker enjoyed sunbathing in peace.
New York City Democratic politics are largely shaped by organized labor. Almost every liberal leader in New York City—including the mayor and city council speaker—owes some measure of allegiance to the radical-leftist Working Families Party, which grew out of an alliance between labor unions and activist groups, such as the scandal-plagued Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (Acorn), which applied the union-organizing model to public housing complexes. WFP-backed candidates (like Mark-Viverito) are usually endorsed by the city’s most powerful unions: 1199 SEIU, which represents health-care and hospital workers; 32BJ, a union for property-service workers; the Transit Workers Union Local 100; and the United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City’s public school teachers. Mark-Viverito worked as an organizer for 1199, and the powerful union steered her to move to East Harlem to seek political office there.
The WFP runs pro-labor candidates with the goal of forcing mainstream Democrats and incumbents further left. Though it has national aspirations, the party thrives mainly in New York, where “fusion” voting rules allow candidates to seek office on multiple ballot lines. In 2010, a group of WFP-backed council members, led by Mark-Viverito and Brad Lander—who succeeded de Blasio in his Park Slope district after the future mayor became public advocate—formed the Progressive Caucus. Including Mark-Viverito as speaker, the caucus, with 18 seats, now makes up more than one-third of the 51-member council and dominates the council politically, holding all leadership posts and most key committee chairmanships. Its members are unremittingly left-wing.
The entire thing is worth a read to understand just what a bunch of loons are running city hall these days.