UPDATED : In speaker race, 32 City legislators pledge votes for TBA Council speaker candidate to U.S. Rep. Crowley : report

By LOUIS FLORES

Updated 05 December 2017 08:20 a.m. ⎪ Thirty-two members of the New York City Council have reportedly pledged to U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens) the vote that each will cast to determine the next speaker of the Municipal legislature. The size of the pledged votes was revealed in a report published by City & State.

Obtaining the power to select the next Council speaker has been described as a political comeback story for U.S. Rep. Crowley, who has "made clear that he wants to reassert his own authority" in this year's Council speaker race, according to a report published by The New York Times. Four years ago, U.S. Rep. Crowley was rendered politically impotent in that year's Council speaker race when Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) ; lobbying firms, including The Advance Group ; and Brooklyn Democratic County Committee chair Frank Seddio formed a coälition to select the Council speaker.

A press representative for U.S. Rep. Crowley did not answer a request for an interview for this report.

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Because the Council speaker exercises sole discretion to determine who amongst the Councilmembers will serve in senior Council leadership posts ; which Councilmembers will serve as chairs of committees ; who will be retained, fired, or hired amongst the City Council Central Staff ; which legislative bills are scheduled for hearings and votes ; and which applications for discretionary funding are approved, special interests have long sought to influence the Council speaker selection process.

In 2006, a report published by The New York Times about then newly-selected Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea) noted that, "In what has become a City Hall rite, a line of council members, lobbyists and union leaders have been calling on the new speaker to pay their respects and to lobby for the assignments and the attending perks for themselves and their friends." In 2014, after outgoing Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem) was newly selected as Council speaker, a report by Crain's New York Business revealed that several lobbyists were "involved in her efforts to hire council staff and dole out coveted committee assignments."

Whereas several special interests have sought to influence the Council speaker's race, Democratic Party County committee chairs have always had a role in determining the City Council speaker. Yet, this year stands out for the almost exclusive role that U.S. Rep. Crowley has sought to exert over determining the City Council's top leadership post. In his thirst to "reassert his own authority" over this year's Council speaker race, U.S. Rep. Crowley has edged out any other participant in the selection process. His power grab -- strong-arming the blanket vote commitments of 32 Councilmembers to an no-name Council speaker of U.S. Rep. Crowley's sole choosing -- has threatened to deny the public the honest services of their duly elected Councilmembers to participate in their own autonomous process to select their own Council speaker, according to information obtained by Progress Queens. Furthermore, a separate report published by City & State has indicated that U.S. Rep. Crowley is seeking to exert more power and influence over the City Council, not just merely determining its speakership. This year, U.S. Rep. Crowley will also be involved in determining the composition of the City Council Central Staff.

In recent years, whenever the democratic functions of Government bodies have been undercut by the theft of honest services or by honest services fraud, actual or alleged, Federal prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district, have launched criminal investigations. After former New York City Councilmember Daniel Holloran (D-Queens) appealed his conviction for two schemes of corruption, for which he was prosecuted by Federal prosecutors, a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit stated that there was a public interest "in preventing ‘quid pro quo corruption’ or the appearance thereof," according to a legal summary of the ruling published by the law firm, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP.

Questions about how some lawyers with close ties to the Democratic Organization of Queens County, sometimes referred to as the Queens Democratic County Committee, which is headed by U.S. Rep. Crowley, are profiting from legal work they receive from the Queens County court system and how all eight (8) Council speaker candidates have been engaged in speakership campaign activities without a dedicated campaign committee for the speakership race have become subjects of controversy. For this report, representatives from the press offices of the U.S. Attorneys' Offices in Brooklyn, which has jurisdiction over Queens, and in Manhattan, which brings forth complex public corruption cases, refused to answer advance questions submitted by Progress Queens.

The subversion of the City Council's autonomy comes at a time when advocates for social, economic, and legal reforms have been pressing their duly elected Councilmembers to pass a police reform law, known as the Right to Know Act, and to pass commercial rent regulations for small businesses, which are encompassed in a bill known as the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, or SBJSA, amongst other reform legislation. Despite large support in the community for the Right to Know Act and the SBJSA, neither bill has been scheduled for a vote. Several communities have also mounted opposition campaigns against large scale development projects that have been blamed for spreading, or threatening to spread, gentrification. However, no matter how much opposition or protest communities undertake, their Councilmembers almost always side with real estate developers, as was noted in the recent approval of the Bedford-Union Armory in Brooklyn. As Councilmembers have deflected attention from their failure to answer demands from their constituents, nobody has considered the incredible sway that U.S. Rep. Crowley is able to exert over the entire City Council.

It has been widely reported that the Council speaker race has been being waged "behind the scenes" for months, according to a report published by The New York Times, with a report broadcast by the cable news network NY1 noting that many of the Council speaker candidates had already met with U.S. Rep. Crowley before the November general election. One of the Council speaker candidates, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), expressed his support to see U.S. Rep. Crowley be elected to speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, according to the recent City & State report, indicating that U.S. Rep. Crowley may benefit, personally and politically, after the Council speaker race has concluded.

The other Council speaker candidates are Councilmembers Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. (D-Crown Heights) ; Corey Johnson (D-Chesea) ; Mark D. Levine (D-West Harlem) ; Donovan Richards, Jr. (D-The Rockaways) ; Ydanis A. Rodriguez (D-Inwood) ; Ritchie J. Torres (D-Fordham) ; and Jumaane D. Williams (D-Canarsie). None of the Council speaker candidates, or their representative, if applicable, answered interview requests for this report.

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