Race and the City Council speaker race
ASSEMBLYMAN CHARLES BARRON | 9/14/2017, 3:15 p.m.
Will the next New York City Council speaker be Black?
Who will select and control the next City Council speaker? Although the next City Council speaker should be Black—it’s our turn now—how the next speaker of the New York City Council is chosen will have far more impact, power and influence than who the person is. The process of selecting the City Council speaker has historically been controlled by county bosses, the unions and the mayor, even though none of them can vote for speaker. The only people who can vote for speaker of the City Council are the City Council members themselves. There are 51 City Council members. To win the speaker race, you need a simple majority of 26 Council members voting for you. There are 16 Council members in Brooklyn, 14 Council members in Queens, 10 Council members in Manhattan, eight Council members in the Bronx and three Council members on Staten Island. Any combination of these counties that can come together to reach that magic number of 26 votes will choose the next speaker. So what does it all mean?
Let’s examine the power of the speaker. The speaker determines who gets the Council
leadership positions and the committee chairs. The speaker determines which committees each Council member will serve on. The speaker determines what floor your office will be on, and the size of your office. The speaker determines where you will sit in the Council chambers during stated Council meetings. The speaker determines whether your bill will see the light of day and be voted on, or whether it will die in committee. The speaker determines the amount of money each Council member receives to hire staff. The speaker controls the hiring of the City Council staff. Although capital and expense money for Council members’ districts are more equitably distributed now, thanks to the reform efforts of the “Fresh Democracy Council,”a group I helped establish, the speaker still has a pot of money to reward those Council members who “go along to get along.” This influence is too much power for one person. The Council needs radical changes to more equitably distribute power and resources to communities that are in the greatest of need.
With so much power invested in one person, you can see why the county bosses, some union leadership and the mayor are so interested in selecting a person they can control. There are two more entities involved in this process: the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus and the Progressive Caucus. The speaker of the City Council and the county bosses have too much control over the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus members, and the Working Families Party controls the Progressive Caucus. Even though the Council members are the only ones who can vote, there is no independent body of Council members who have any control over the process of selecting the next speaker of the New York City Council. Deals will be made behind closed doors by the county bosses, the Working Families Party, the mayor and others to secure committee chairs, central staff and other amenities.