With Mark-Viverito as Speaker, Who Will Chair Transportation Committee?

Original Photo: William Altatriste/NYC Council. Illustration: Stephen Miller/Streetsblog
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, center, with Jimmy Van Bramer, upper left, James Vacca, lower left, and David Greenfield, right. Original Photo: William Altatriste/NYC Council. Illustration: Stephen Miller

Almost immediately after Melissa Mark-Viverito was elected city council speaker yesterday, she formed the council’s rules committee, installing her progressive caucus co-leader Brad Lander as its chair. Lander, like Mark-Viverito a livable streets stalwart who has also championed overhauling many of the council’s procedures, is now in a prime position to help pick who will chair the council’s committees.

Lander’s proposals, outlined last fall, aim to give committee chairs more power over their agendas and staffs, removing some control from the speaker. If these reforms proceed under Speaker Mark-Viverito, it makes the policy goals of those who would occupy chairmanships all the more important.

Committee chairmanships, and their attendant pay raises, are often political spoils for those who backed the winning speaker candidate. In the past, many chairmanships have gone to senior supporters of the Bronx and Queens Democratic party organizations. Most recently under Speaker Christine Quinn, for example, James Vacca of the Bronx headed transportation, Leroy Comrie of Queens chaired the pivotal land use committee, and Peter Vallone Jr. of Queens led public safety.

This time around, the Queens and Bronx organizations were on the losing end after Brooklyn Democratic party chair Frank Seddio aligned with the council’s progressive caucus, top unions, and Mayor Bill de Blasio to back Mark-Viverito.

Soon after Seddio’s move, talk began flying about chairmanships for Brooklyn council members unaligned with the progressive caucus. Chief among them: David Greenfield, who is said to be a favorite to lead land use or transportation. He began publicly campaigning heavily for Mark-Viverito after Seddio’s decision to back her.

Although Greenfield has supported NYPD crash investigation reforms and is spearheading a push for lower speed limits, he’s far from progressive on most transportation issues, pushing mandatory bike helmets and relentlessly campaigning for parking.

Greenfield’s anti-bike, pro-parking positions would be troublesome not only on the transportation committee, but also on land use, which would have domain over any reforms to off-street parking requirements in the zoning code that de Blasio’s still-unnamed city planning director might pursue.

Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens, a progressive caucus member on the transportation committee, has stood up for a wide range of livable streets issues, from crash investigations to bike-share. He would be a better choice if Mark-Viverito is serious about holding de Blasio and incoming Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to their safe streets promises. But Van Bramer, who floated himself as a speaker candidate early in the race, may have his eyes on a different prize: Reports indicate that he, like Greenfield, could be in line for the powerful finance committee.

Another possibility is that James Vacca could continue to chair the transportation committee, as he did under Quinn. Vacca, who was re-elected to the council last year, railed against plazas and bike lanes during his tenure as chair and has a soft spot for plentiful parking, but he understands the importance of critical street safety issues like crash investigations and speed cameras. It’s unclear if he will remain transportation chair or helm a different committee in the new council. “I want to continue doing something here,” Vacca said at the final committee meeting last month, “and we’ll see what that is.”

In addition to transportation and land use, street safety advocates are watching for the new chair of the public safety committee, which has an oversight role on NYPD crash investigations and traffic enforcement. One potential surprise to watch out for: Street safety foe Eric Ulrich of Queens, who suddenly flipped to support Mark-Viverito last month, has reportedly been promised a chairmanship in exchange for his support — a rumor which he denies.

Another possibility is that Mark-Viverito will offer a few chairmanships to council members who backed Dan Garodnick, her rival for speaker, in an attempt to bridge divides that threatened a floor fight until just before yesterday’s vote. In that scenario, livable streets supporter and former Garodnick backer Mark Weprin, who served as chair of the zoning subcommittee, could make the jump to a full committee chairmanship this term.

The council next meets on January 22, when it is expected to adopt rule changes and formalize committee assignments.

  • J

    Any chance Brad Lander could get the Transpo or Land Use Chairmanship? He’s certainly qualified, with his background as an urban planner. He’s also been a loyal backer of Mark-Viverito and a leader of the Progressive Caucus.

    Can you chair more than one committee?

  • Consigliere

    There’s no way Vacca is getting this gig again. Greenfield might get land use, but not transpo.

  • StraightStory

    Someone else to consider: Ydanis Rodriquez

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    He’s impressive on almost all counts but if you’re talking transpo I’m not sure he is MMV or Van Bramer on complete streets. TBD.

  • Leroy

    Be hard to endure four years of a Vacca or Greenfield able to set their own transpo agenda.

  • krstrois

    I appreciate Greenfield’s leadership on speed limit reduction but he is the best friend to parking spaces everywhere, and that alone should disqualify him. Not that we should be eager for such a suburban-minded fellow at land use, either. . . bleargh.

  • m

    no

  • Nyc cycler

    Hopefully it’ll be someone who will put cyclists back on the street where we belong, instead of shunting us off to those awful green gutter lanes that the previous disaster of a commish forced us into!

  • Adam Benditsky

    Is it really fair to call someone anti-bike because they oppose mandatory helmet laws? Less regulation might boost overall numbers, but massive head injuries don’t bode well for our cause,which is to say nothing of how they destroy lives

  • Ian Turner

    Mandatory helmet laws discourage bicycle use and have no public safety benefit. They are anti-bike.

  • Joe R.

    I’m not aware of large numbers of “massive head injuries” caused by cycling. This is exactly the kind of inflammatory rhetoric used by those pushing mandatory helmet laws. Yes, a very small number of people sustain massive head injuries while cycling, but this number is actually less per hour of cycling than it is per hour of walking or driving. The fact that cycling alone is singled out for mandatory helmet laws is why cycling advocates call those who support such laws anti-bike. Incidentally, I would still be opposed to mandatory helmet laws even if they included pedestrians and motor vehicle users, but at least in that case my opposition wouldn’t be because the law singled out cyclists.

    The bottom line here is mandatory helmet laws not only discourage bicycle use, but they also make things more dangerous for those who choose to continue cycling. There’s a thing called “safety in numbers”. More cyclists on the road, with or without helmets, increase driver awareness of cyclists in general, making things safer for all cyclists. Finally, even if this wasn’t the case, bicycle helmets prevent a relatively small percentage of injuries. The best analogy I can come up with is requiring people to wear clothing designed to protect against injury from lightning. Such clothing may indeed occasionally be effective for its intended function, but the class of injuries it protects against is so vanishingly small that it’s not worth the expense or inconvenience to require it. It’s a fact that cycling is a very safe activity. It’s also a fact that the majority of cyclist injuries by a large margin occur in places other than the head. Finally, it’s a fact that the vast majority of head injuries which do occur aren’t severe, even without a helmet. I read somewhere that mandatory helmet laws would prevent a single digit number of deaths per year in a large city like New York. They might also result in a similar number of rotational injuries which wouldn’t have otherwise occurred. We could prevent a lot more cycling deaths by just building better bicycle infrastructure.

  • Joe R.

    I’ll be the first to admit a lot of cycling infrastructure in NYC leaves quite a bit to be desired, but the “awful green gutter lanes” you mention at least serve one purpose-they legitimize cycling as a form of transportation entitled to its own infrastructure. Sure, we can and will do better in the future, but we needed to start somewhere. We’ll learn from the mistakes we made this time around so we don’t repeat them.

    I should also add that there were budgetary constraints which prevented us from doing more. JSK specifically mentioned that she wanted the bike infrastructure to be low cost, and easily reversible in case it didn’t work as planned. Where it did work, the changes could be made more permanent.

    As an avid cyclist, I can tell you with 100% certainty that I would rather not be on the street at all. I’d much prefer bike infrastructure free of motor vehicles, pedestrians, traffic lights, stop signs, and potholes. However, such infrastructure would cost at least an order of magnitude more than what we have. I’ve little doubt this type of infrastructure is the future, but for now we have what we have. Practical constraints dictate that we’ll still need to be on the streets for at least a small part of the journey because there isn’t room or money for totally separate infrastructure on every street. That being the case, protected lanes aren’t a horrible “last mile” solution. I absolutely wouldn’t want to do a long trip in them, but they’re fine to go a handful of blocks from a dedicated “bike highway” to your final destination.

  • Jeff Putterman

    That sounds like “facts” you pulled out of your ass. Why should I have to pay to heal someone foolish enough not to wear a bike helmet in this city? Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I bike and always wear a helmet.

  • Jeff Putterman

    WTF are you babbling about?

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