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Leading Dems Fall Short Of Speaker Post As Brooklyn Bloc Crumbles

Behind Manhattan City Councilmember Christine Quinn’s ascension to Council speaker is the story, once again, of the Brooklyn City Council delegation not voting as a bloc. And while the borough’s key players are saying that Quinn’s appointment will be a boon for Brooklyn, the borough’s influence in city government remains to be seen under Quinn. As speaker, Quinn’s duties include doling out some discretionary funding, picking committee and sub-committee chairs as well as other council leadership positions, and negotiating with the mayor on budget matters on behalf of the City Council. As the most populated borough in the city, Brooklyn has the largest delegation in the Council with 16 members. “We [Brooklyn] came in [the speaker race] very divided,” said Assemblymember Vito Lopez, who succeeded the recently convicted Clarence Norman as chair of the Kings County Democratic Party. “The borough has a history of being fragmented for the last nine or 10 years. Years ago, presidents came to Brooklyn for support but that hasn’t happened for years. Only when we show compromise will we have the power we deserve,” Lopez added. However, some political insiders contend that Lopez himself contributed to the division and lack of unity. Lopez did not want to see his leadership usurped by City Councilmember Bill de Blasio, who was a frontrunner along with Quinn for speaker, said one political insider. Originally, there were seven councilmembers vying for the speaker spot, including de Blasio and Lew Fidler from Brooklyn. Lopez said that after much maneuvering, de Blasio led the race for speaker with 15 votes of the 26 needed. This was followed by Quinn, who had eight votes, while eight council members were pledged to Lopez to broker a deal on Brooklyn’s behalf. At this point, Queens Democratic boss Tom Manton pulled in the entire 14-member delegation from that borough and voted as a bloc for Quinn, putting her just four votes from the majority needed to get the speaker position, according to Lopez. Lopez said he then put in his eight votes behind Quinn to put her over the top, with the hopes of the borough becoming a player when City Council leadership, and committee chairs and sub-committee chairs, are named. Almost all these positions come with money, above the $90,000 base salary of Councilmembers, along with extra influence in city proceedings. “I’m now in the process of meeting with members to see what committees they want to chair and what committees they want to be on, and have reached out to every member in Brooklyn,” said Lopez, adding that one or two are licking their wounds. While these leadership roles will not be determined until January 18, several political insiders say that both de Blasio and Fidler are up for such leadership positions as council majority leader, deputy majority leader and whip. In either case, both de Blasio and Fidler, appeared to come out with more clout — de Blasio for building a diverse coalition of councilmembers citywide and Fidler for showing loyalty to Lopez and the Kings County Democratic party. “I’ve given this race my all, but my colleague, Christine Quinn, has the support to win. Now it’s time to unite the Council and ensure a strong Speaker,” said de Blasio. “I am grateful to all of my colleagues who came together in a progressive, multi-borough coalition to back my own candidacy, but now I’m urging them to join me in supporting Chris,” he added. De Blasio praised Quinn as a speaker who will lead the Council in a progressive direction and strengthen the Council’s role of representing every neighborhood in the city, with a special emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable New Yorkers. Fidler said that while he’s sorry he didn’t get the speaker position, he has always worked well with Quinn and feels she will be an outstanding speaker. “On January 18, I’m hoping to be part of the Council leadership team and when the final die is cast we’ll see Brooklyn did very well this time in terms of representation in the Council power structure this time,” said Fidler. “Brooklyn played an integral role in building this [Quinn] coalition and then everyone will be able to judge for themselves,” he added. Despite Fidler, de Blasio and Lopez’s optimism, however, it is Queens’ unity that once again paved the way for Quinn to become speaker, and thus the borough is likely to remain in control of such key committees as Ways and Means, and Land Use. City Councilmember Letitia James said the lack of Brooklyn unity will once again hurt the borough in City government. “We’re going to get crumbs and all the significant chairs went to Queens and Manhattan, and we didn’t deliver for the borough,” said James. “It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t build a coalition that could stay together, particularly in light of the fact that poverty and healthcare disparities are growing in Brooklyn and there’s a continued housing crisis here,” she added. This noted, political insiders say that Fidler will likely retain his role as chair of the Youth Services Committee and Domenic Recchia will remain as chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee. Other borough councilmembers expecting to be in the hunt for committee or subcommittee chairs are Sara Gonzalez, David Yassky and Simcha Felder, insiders say. The borough’s senior Councilmember Mike Nelson currently chairs the Small Business Committee. Nelson spokesperson Robert Varley refused to speculate on what, if any, positions Nelson might get in the new Council.

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