The eight city councilmen running to succeed Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito vowed to further democratize the body—and some said they would be tougher with the mayor.
The speaker candidates—Manhattan Councilmen Corey Johnson, Mark Levine and Ydanis Rodriguez, Queens Councilmen Donovan Richards and James Van Bramer, Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres and Brooklyn Councilmen Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams—made the remarks at a Crain's forum in Midtown. As speaker, Mark-Viverito has instituted reforms such as distributing discretionary money based on district need, but some members have chafed that she bottles up legislation unless she has negotiated a deal for the mayor's approval.
This has spared Mayor Bill de Blasio, who helped engineer Mark-Viverito's election as speaker in late 2013, from having to veto even a single bill after nearly four years in office. Torres decried as an "embarrassing months-long spectacle" the ill-fated agreement between Mark-Viverito and de Blasio to curtail the horse carriage industry in Central Park.
"Instead of representing the weight of the members, I thought the leadership of the council was effectively doing the bidding of the mayor," said the Bronx lawmaker, viewed generally as an underdog in the speaker's race.
He asserted that bills with a veto-proof "supermajority" of 34 or more sponsors should receive a vote regardless of the mayor's or speaker's feelings, even as he argued the speaker should provide some kind of "quality control."
Several of Torres' colleagues noted that the council bucked both the mayor and the speaker on the carriage deal. Van Bramer, Johnson and Levine praised Mark-Viverito for overcoming the mayor's initial resistance to more NYPD hires, to a new legal defense fund for all undocumented immigrants fighting deportation and to closing the Rikers Island jail complex.
Still, they called for rules changes that would stop a future speaker from continuing Mark-Viverito's tack of blocking bills that she or the mayor dislikes. Johnson suggested new mechanisms that would ensure a hearing on bills with majority support (at least 26 sponsors) and a vote on bills with 34 members signed on.