Would-Be NYC Council Speakers On The Prospect Of Being Less Powerful Than Quinn


Beyond the references to slicing off genitalia and the “sound-proofing” of her City Hall office, the Times story about Christine Quinn helps illustrate the power that comes with being the City Council speaker.

Common Cause NY is hoping that there will be a lot less of it in the future.

The good-government advocacy group sent letters to the four likely Council speaker candidates and asked them about the centralization of power in the speaker’s office.

Would they change or “reform” this process, in order to prevent the next Speaker from controlling the flow of legislation and money as a way of punishing and rewarding Council members?

One of the leading candidates, Inez Dickens of Harlem, freely admits that she would not.

In her March 11 response to Common Cause NY, Dickens frames the proposed rules changes as a dilution of the next speaker’s power, and part of a troubling trend of weakenening black legislative leaders who rise to power.

“I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge what to many has been a remarkable historical coincidence of timing between the increased fervor of reform/good government organizations and the ascension of non-traditional leaders to positions of power.

“J. Raymond Jones’ ascension to the Manhattan County Leadership, the David Dinkins Mayorality and the leadership for the New York State Senate in 2009 are just a few historical points of reference.”

Other possible speakers were more open to the changes, in theory.

Councilman Dan Garodnick of Manhattan wrote, “I share your concerns about the centralization of power within the Council Speaker.” He also said he’s interested in “a more equitable distribution of funds [b]ecause it could eliminate some fear of retribution for independent acts.”

Melissa Mark-Viverito, from East Harlem, accepted Common Cause NY’s premise, writing, “The differential allocation of member items is broadly perceived by Council Members and the public as a core factor that undermines members’ independence.”

She went to talk about more transparency and live-streaming of Council events, plus “Charter reforms that will make the Council more equal partners with the mayor in the budget process and in setting policy.”

Mark Weprin of Queens wrote a four-sentence letter that didn’t say much of substance, calling himself “one of the leading advocates for open government” and saying, “I support many of the concepts” the group advocates.


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