Melissa Mark-Viverito will serve as the next New York City Council speaker following a vote today by her peers in the council. She now holds the second most powerful position in New York City politics, after the mayor himself, and will set the agenda for the City Council for the next four years. The vote was un-contested after her chief rival for the speakership, Dan Garodnick, officially conceded.
Mark-Viverito’s district encompasses East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. In her eight years on the council, she has been one of the true standouts on streets and transportation issues, leading Streetsblog to name her the Elected Official of the Year in 2012.
In 2008, she vocally supported congestion pricing and was one of the only NYC elected officials to publicly counter suburban politicians who tried to frame the proposal as harmful to working class New Yorkers. She also called for upgrades to the M15 to include physically separated bus lanes (DOT and the MTA eventually went with camera-enforced, un-separated lanes) and waged an effective campaign to extend protected bike lanes on First and Second Avenues through East Harlem.
Garodnick, who mounted the strongest challenge to Mark-Viverito, is no slouch on street safety and transit issues either, and like Mark-Viverito he earned an endorsement from StreetsPAC in his re-election campaign this year. But there was certainly a gap between the coalitions supporting each candidate.
Mark-Viverito’s bid for the speakership became insurmountable after her base — the council’s Progressive Caucus, which she launched with Council Member Brad Lander in 2010 — was joined by the Brooklyn Democratic Party machine in a deal brokered by Mayor Bill de Blasio. While support for livable streets policies is far from universal among the Brooklyn Democrats, the Progressive Caucus has an outstanding transportation platform.
Garodnick’s coalition, meanwhile, consisted of the Bronx and Queens Democratic Party machines, which, despite a handful of enlightened members, don’t instill confidence when it comes to re-engineering streets to prioritize walking, biking, and transit.
In the end, Garodnick and Mark-Viverito embraced in the council chambers, and there was no contested vote.
Next up: Committee chair assignments. The top three committees to watch are transportation, chaired in the previous term by James Vacca; land use, formerly chaired by Leroy Comrie, who is no longer in the council; and public safety, which was chaired by Peter Vallone, Jr., also term-limited. We’ll have more on those positions in a separate post.