Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) was officially elected speaker of the New York City Council Wednesday afternoon.
What was expected to be a contentious vote ended up being a scene of unification and reconciliation as the new Council walked on the floor around 1 p.m. After being greeted by thunderous applause, Mark-Viverito’s last opponent, Councilman Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan), formally conceded, praising the new speaker with a hug and congratulations.
“Over a year ago, I offered myself as a candidate for speaker of this body,” he said. “Today that process comes to a conclusion and I want to formerly concede to the next speaker of the Council, my colleague Melissa Mark-Viverito. I look forward to working with Speaker Mark-Viverito. She is a smart and committed public servant and we have worked extremely well together over the years.”
Garodnick also said he would do what he could to make sure the Council remains unified after the divisive battle.
“I will do my point to resolve any rifts that this process may have caused among us,” he said.
Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem and the South Bronx, was nominated by freshman Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), the only Bronx member to buck the borough’s Democratic leader, Assemblyman Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), and endorse her last month. Her nomination was seconded by, among other members, Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who also bucked Queens Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx), who had backed Garodnick.
“She has proven to be a wonderful friend, colleague and mentor,” Dromm said. “I have witnessed her going up against powerful forces to do the right thing. She is a profile in courage.”
Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) also seconded her nomination.
“New York City is calling for a more progressive government,” she said. “Melissa has a plan to create good jobs, expand opportunities and keep us safe.”
In the end, Mark-Viverito won the vote of all 51 members, including full support from the three Republicans and the delegations from Queens and the Bronx.
She already had the support of seven members from Queens: Dromm, Ferreras, Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn, Queens), who represents part of Ridgewood, Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and the borough’s lone Republican, Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).
When casting his vote, Van Bramer alluded to his working-class parents.
“It is with my mother in mind, who is a strong woman, that I vote for Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito,” he said.
Ulrich, who was later joined by the two other Republicans, Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island) and Steve Matteo (R-Staten Island), said his choice of Mark-Viverito, which had surprised many, was to help his district, especially after Hurricane Sandy.
“While we may not agree on every issue, I know that I can count on Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to work with me on important issues facing my district,” Ulrich said in a statement after the vote. “Many of my constituents are unemployed, still recovering from Hurricane Sandy or finding it harder than ever to simply make ends meet. I will make sure that these issues and the plight of the middle class are a top priority for the new speaker and Council. Like every decision I make, I do so based upon what I think is right for the people I represent, and this is no exception.”
The rest of the Queens delegation, including two of Garodnick’s top supporters, Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and former speaker candidate Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), threw their support behind Mark-Viverito after Garodnick’s concession.
In explaining his vote, Weprin alluded to the need for the body to be united and serve as a counterbalance to Mayor Bill de Blasio, striking at concerns that Mark-Viverito, de Blasio’s choice for speaker, would not be willing to take him on.
“We need to be a united unit, working together, liking each other, because if we’re unified and respect each other, we can get things done,” he said. “We have to do our charter-mandated responsibility.”
Several Democratic sources have said the unanimous vote came after a deal was struck that would keep key committee chairmanships in Queens and the Bronx.
In the previous term, Queens held a number of key committee chairs including Land Use, Public Safety and Economic Development. Committee chairmanships will be handed out during the next week, sources said.
The choice of Mark-Viverito was also controversial after news that she had not stood for the Pledge of Allegiance at Council sessions.
There have also been questions over Mark-Viverito’s failure to declare income from rental properties she owns. The new speaker had said it was an oversight on her part that she would correct. She also failed to release her tax returns on the eve of her election to the speaker’s chair.
The race was not nearly as contentious as the first one, held in 1986. In that race, Astoria Councilman Peter Vallone Sr. won the speaker’s gavel by a vote of 18-17. Vallone had been the underdog in the race against Brooklyn Councilman Samuel Horwitz.
Vallone only emerged victorious when one councilman, Robert Dryfoos from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, changed his vote at the last minute.
His son, Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), referenced his father when he stood up to cast his vote for Mark-Viverito.
“The shoes, Madame Speaker, you’re about to fill were first filled by my father, the first speaker, Peter Vallone Sr.,” he said.
Vallone’s brother, Peter Vallone Jr., represented Astoria from 2001 until last month.
Mark-Viverito is the second woman and first Hispanic speaker. She is slated to serve through the end of 2017, but is term-limited and so would only serve one term as speaker. She is also the third consecutive Manhattan speaker after Christine Quinn and Gifford Miller and the first to represent part of the Bronx.
The last time there was an open race for Council speaker was in 2006, when Quinn was elected only after her opponent dropped out so the vote would be unanimous.
That opponent — Bill de Blasio.