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Queens Chronicle

News analysis Council speaker’s race takes shape

A variety of factors will determine if the gavel returns to Queens

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Posted: Thursday, September 26, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 5:17 am, Wed Dec 24, 2014.

After Nov. 5, there will be one more race to watch before the new city government takes office and that will be who succeeds Christine Quinn as speaker of the City Council.

The position, which has only had three occupants since being created in 1989, wields tremendous power over legislation that passes through the Council and the annual budget negotiations.

The speakership has only been held by people from two boroughs, Queens and Manhattan, so the possibility of the gavel returning here would appear slim.

But the next mayor and next public advocate will likely be from Brooklyn, which means geographical balance will likely remove that borough from consideration, and since 1989, the Queens and Manhattan delegations have had a detente of sorts — delivering votes as a bloc — that has helped the speakership stay in the two boroughs.

After two back-to-back speakers from Manhattan, the outer boroughs will likely be looking to reclaim the powerful position.

The top speaker contender from Queens right now is Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens). A son of a former Assembly speaker and brother of a former Council finance chairman, Weprin has good relationships with the Democratic Party heads in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan — all of whom he served with in Albany — and has helped winning Council candidates all over the city. Weprin represents a district from far outside Manhattan, giving him outer-borough credibility, and took what progressives view as brave votes in favor of the two bills to rein in stop and frisk.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer’s (D-Sunnyside) name has also been tossed around as a potential speaker, and he helped a number of winning Democratic Council candidates around the city this year and is a founding member of the Progressive Caucus, which is poised to grow next year.

But Queens may be out of luck unless Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) wins the public advocate runoff next week, which perhaps explains the Queens Democratic Party’s surprise endorsement of her Monday. If Brooklyn state Sen. Daniel Squadron wins, all three citywide offices will be held by white males, making it unlikely a white male like Weprin or Van Bramer would be considered.

It would also likely cool support for two other white male favorites; Council members Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan), who represents a district on Manhattan’s East Side that Quinn won in the primary, and James Vacca (D-Bronx), who, like Weprin, comes from a district far from Manhattan and would claim the gavel for his borough for the first time.

A Squadron win would give a boost to the hopes of female, black or Hispanic candidates, such as Council members Inez Dickens (D-Manhattan), who is black, Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan), Rosie Mendez (D-Manhattan) and Annabel Palma (D-Bronx), who are Hispanic, or perhaps even Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn), who has been a darling of progressives over his staunch opposition to stop and frisk. However, Williams’ Brooklyn base and what many feel is his socially conservative beliefs on same-sex marriage and abortion may remove him from consideration. Another wild card is Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-Staten Island), who has the intriguing resume of being progressive, black, female and from the smallest and most conservative borough.

Another wild card is de Blasio’s choice for wielding the gavel is should he be elected mayor. De Blasio is close to Mark-Viverito and not seen as very close to Dickens, who has been mired in controversy. Whether or not the Council wants to back the new mayor’s choice, or go its own way, may cause the list to shorten, or change completely.

Another factor will be the length of time a potential speaker can serve depending on when they’re term-limited. Quinn served two terms as speaker and both Weprin and Van Bramer are not term-limited until 2021, while other candidates, like Vacca, Garodnick and Dickens, are term-limited in 2017 and could only serve one term as speaker.

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