Rockaway Represented in Speaker's Race

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In New York City, the mayor is regarded as the most powerful political player. Mayor de Blasio has had this distinction for the past four years and is looking to retain that title. But after the mayor, who is considered the next biggest power holder in this gritty city? If you listen to political insiders, that envied post belongs to the New York City Council Speaker. The current speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, will relinquish her position at the end of this year and the race for her coveted position is on.

While New York City Council Speaker races are notoriously unpredictable, this year most considered Queens Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland a shoo-in for the role. With her close ties to Mayor de Blasio and the support from city progressives, her victory was all but assured. However, after she announced in June that she would not run for re-election and withdrew her candidacy for the speaker position, the race became anyone’s game. The election will be held in January 2018 at the first council meeting of the year. It’s important to note that city council members vote for their speaker internally, meaning the public will not have a direct say in who ultimately becomes the second most powerful politician in New York City.

Currently, three candidates are emerging as top contenders for the speaker position: Chelsea Councilman Corey Johnson, Harlem Councilman Mark Levine, and Far Rockaway’s own Councilman Donovan Richards. All three candidates are members of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, a 19-member group that aims to advance policies to build a more just and equal NYC. Councilman Donovan Richards is a co-chair of the caucus.

To claim victory, candidates will need to do more than appeal to their peers on the City Council. New Yorkers can expect these candidates to do a lot of kowtowing to powerful political allies to clinch the seat, such as real estate developers, unions, and even the mayor. More so, many are considering race to be a huge factor in this election. Since the council’s inception, there has not been an African American speaker and many hope that will change come January. Others cite the candidate’s relationship with the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) to be an important factor as the real estate sector traditionally has had a strong interest in maintaining positive relationships with the City Council Speaker.

Let’s take a look at the top candidates:

Councilman Corey Johnson

Councilman Johnson (D) represents District 3 in Manhattan, including Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Greenwich Village, West SoHo, Hudson Square, Times Square, the Garment District, Flatiron, Columbus Circle, and part of the Upper West Side. Johnson has poised himself as the candidate most likely to stand up to de Blasio, though he endorsed de Blasio’s bid for re-election. As a councilman, Johnson has supported legislation to protect tenant rights, improve public health, and safeguard the welfare of animals. Johnson, an openly gay man living with HIV, would be the Council’s first Speaker who is HIV positive.

Councilman Mark Levine

Councilman Levine (D) represents District 7 in Northern Manhattan, including Manhattan Valley, Manhattanville, Morningside Heights, Hamilton Heights, and parts of Washington Heights. Levine made minor waves in 2014 after being elected as a white male in a predominantly black and Hispanic district. In his tenure on the City Council, Levine has fought for affordable housing, supporting small businesses, improving public transportation, and preserving the character of the neighborhoods in his district.

Councilman Richards

Councilman Richards (D) represents District 31 in Southern Queens, including the eastern end of the Rockaway Peninsula as well as Laurelton, Rosedale, Brookville, and Springfield Gardens. Richards has served as the chair for the Committee on Environmental Protection as well as the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises. He’s been a strong advocate for increasing affordable housing and improving infrastructure throughout the city. If elected, Richards would be the first African American Speaker in the council’s history.

What’s Next?

While Johnson, Levine, and Richards are the current standouts, the speaker’s race is far from assured with 5 other candidates making real claims for the position. These second-tier contenders include Inwood Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, Long Island City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Bedford Stuyvesant Councilman Robert Cornegy, Flatbush Councilman Jumaane Williams, and Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres. Considering the uncertain nature of Speaker races, any of these candidates, along with the top three, could have a shot at the job come January.