The news that Republican Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) was bucking his party and backing Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) for speaker was met with stiff opposition from some, especially a few veterans upset over reports that Mark-Viverito did not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in past Council sessions.
“The fact that he will support such an individual who has displayed contempt for our national symbol and refused to pledge allegiance to our flag until she decided to run for speaker is nothing less than disgusting,” Marvin Jeffcoat, former commander of the Queens Veterans of Foreign Wars, said in a letter.
What appears to be a form letter being sent to media outlets by veterans also criticizes Ulrich’s backing of Mark-Viverito.
“Don’t let Ulrich and his comrade Mark-Viverito continue to trample on and tarnish our flag, even as the blood of our brothers and sisters is soaking into foreign soil,” the letter reads. “Let Ulrich know you believe in the right to salute and pledge your allegiance to our flag. Let Ulrich know he can’t put a price on patriotism without risking a loss at the polls.”
Ulrich, who said Mark-Viverito would be a “disaster” as speaker last month, told reporters at City Hall last Thursday that the pledge issue was worked out between him and Mark-Viverito “behind closed doors” and that he had apologized to her for the “disaster” comment.
“It was a very strong word for me to make,” he said. “I was being reactive. And sometimes I think we have a tendency to react to what we hear or read about without necessarily getting it from the horse’s mouth.”
On NY1 last week, Ulrich said an aura of inevitability around Mark-Viverito is what pushed him to support her.
“I had heard and read about up until that point that a number of my colleagues were starting to coalesce around her,” he explained. “And I thought that I could play a very important role in cementing a solid majority of support for her candidacy.”
Ulrich is the only Republican to win a Council seat this year in Queens and one of only three citywide and the only one to be backing Mark-Viverito. He endorsed GOP candidate Joe Lhota for mayor last year and has been critical of Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio on a number of issues, most notably de Blasio’s opposition to stop and frisk. Ulrich was a staunch opponent of the Community Safety Act, which seeks to curtail stop and frisk and was supported by Mark-Viverito and most of her backers.
But the 28-year-old Ozone Park native, who won re-election last month against Rockaway civic leader Lew Simon by a 53 percent to a 47 percent margin sided with the liberal Democrats on the Council when he supported paid sick leave, a bill that was vetoed by Mayor Bloomberg and later overridden. Ulrich had the support of the United Federation of Teachers in his last race as well as the Working Families Party, although he failed to get their ballot line. The WFP has also been said to be pushing for a Mark-Viverito speakership.
Published reports said Ulrich may be in line to chair the Council’s Waterfront Committee, which would cover issues dealing with Rockaway Beach and the Jamaica Bay waterfront in his district, including possibly issues like the new FEMA flood maps and other aspects in the recovery from Hurricane Sandy and redevelopment. Republicans, who have been the minority party on the Council for decades, typically do not chair committees. Committee chairs also receive $10,000 stipends, called lulus, for chairing committees.
The form letter being sent out criticizing Ulrich accuses him of backing Mark-Viverito in exchange for a chairmanship.
“Now, Councilman Eric Ulrich – once a staunch and vocal supporter of pledging allegiance to Old Glory – has sold her and all veterans out in exchange for a New York City Council Committee Chairmanship and a $10,000 lulu,” the letter reads. “Is that all our sacrifice is worth to him?
But multiple Council sources said committee assignments have not been fleshed out yet.
“It’s all just speculation right now,” one source said. “The members know where they want to go, but they haven’t been officially promised anything.”
Ulrich himself has also denied a chairmanship was offered to him in exchange of his support.
While his backing of Mark-Viverito was surprising to many, some Democratic sources said they were not shocked.
“Eric has always been easy for Democrats to work with,” a Democratic source said, pointing to Ulrich’s vote on paid sick leave. “It’s not surprising he’s backing a Democrat for speaker. It helps his district enormously.”