It was a hot morning in mid-June in East Harlem. Bill de Blasio was shaking hands and dispensing hugs inside a senior citizen center, his mood upbeat even though his prospects looked grim: He was languishing in fourth place in the polls, many of the residents had never heard of him, and I was the only reporter present. Yet the woman at De Blasio’s side, the local councilwoman, couldn’t have been more confident that she was backing the man who should and would eventually win the mayor’s race.
Melissa Mark-Viverito turned out to be right, of course, and yesterday she reaped a major reward for her faith in De Blasio, all but officially winning the race to be the new speaker of the City Council, thanks to crucial backing from the mayor-elect. Mark-Viverito’s victory comes with so many delicious layers of irony and revenge attached that it’s tough to know where to start. She will be succeeding an ally turned bitter rival, Christine Quinn, whom she accused of allowing a redistricting plan that sliced up Mark-Viverito’s district to solidify the Bronx and Upper Manhattan for Quinn in the mayor’s race (a charge Quinn always denied).
Her elevation is also partial payback for De Blasio’s loss in the 2005 speaker’s contest. Quinn beat him with the pivotal support of the Democratic county leaders, who this time were unified behind Dan Garodnick — unified until De Blasio managed to peel off Frank Seddio, the Brooklyn boss, and combine him with Mark-Viverito’s progressive caucus backers in the council. There’s also the twist that De Blasio spent the summer and fall flaying Quinn for being too close to Mayor Bloomberg. Now he’s helped empower a new council speaker who owes him big time.
Mark-Viverito’s rise gives the city’s new leadership structure an ethnic and gender diversity that’s encouragingly broad: De Blasio, a white German-Italian-American man, as mayor; Scott Stringer, a white Jewish-American man, as comptroller; Tish James, an African-American woman, as public advocate; and MMV, a Puerto Rican woman, as council speaker. Ideologically, though, it’s a starkly monochromatic liberal bunch. Perhaps agreement on issues like expanding affordable housing and paid sick leave, and on the importance of labor unions, will mean smooth policy sailing. Yesterday, De Blasio laughed when asked if a mayor being too closely aligned with a speaker could cause problems. “Wow,” he joked, sarcastically, “what a challenge that would be.” He and Mark-Viverito have played the inside game masterfully over the past few weeks. Next month we’ll start seeing if their skills extend beyond the corridors of City Hall.