City Council speakership race, upended by Ferreras-Copeland decision, may remain opaque

By LOUIS FLORES

When New York City Councilmember Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-Corona) announced that she was not running for reëlection this year, her decision not only opened up her district seat for challengers, but she also reportedly up-ended the race to succeed Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem) as the next City Council speaker.

Prior to the decision of New York City Councilmember Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-Corona) to not seek reëlection, the reported leading contenders to become the next City Council speaker included, left-to-right, Councilmembers Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Mark Levine (D-Morningside Heights), and Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea). Advocates for diversity in Municipal leadership have expressed concern to Progress Queens that no minority leader has been identified to be a reported leading contender for the City Council speakership. Source : New York City Council/Public Domain

Prior to the decision of New York City Councilmember Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-Corona) to not seek reëlection, the reported leading contenders to become the next City Council speaker included, left-to-right, Councilmembers Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Mark Levine (D-Morningside Heights), and Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea). Advocates for diversity in Municipal leadership have expressed concern to Progress Queens that no minority leader has been identified to be a reported leading contender for the City Council speakership. Source : New York City Council/Public Domain

Though Councilmember Ferreras-Copeland was reportedly the leading contender to become the next New York City Council speaker, her decision also shifted the dynamics of the Council speakership race, but not necessarily to the benefit of the other notable speakership candidates, said to include Councilmembers Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnywide), Mark Levine (D-Morningside Heights), and Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea). That is because still yet other municipal legislators are now reportedly said to be considering entering the City Council speakership race, including Councilmembers Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Inwood), Robert Cornegy, Jr. (D-Bedford Stuyvesant), Jumaanee Williams (D-East Flatbush), and Donovan Richards, Jr. (D-Far Rockaway), according to a report published by The New York Daily News.

Whereas reports stretching back to 2016 have indicated that some Council Speaker candidates had begun maneuvering last year for the top leadership post, as was noted in one such report published by City Council Watch, it was unclear when active lobbying, including the use of consulting firms, would begin.

Requests to interview the reported leading contenders, Councilmembers Van Bramer, Levin, and Johnson, were not respectively answered. Requests to interview Councilmembers Cornegy and Williams were not answered. An interview request made to Councilmember Richards was made too late on Monday to reach Councilmember Richard during normal business hours. The only reported City Council speaker candidate to answer an interview request was Councilmember Rodriguez.

In an interview with Progress Queens, Councilmember Rodriguez confirmed that he would be campaigning for the City Council speakership, saying he offered the public a 40-year-record of political activism, which he believed qualified him for the leadership post. Councilmember Rodriguez declined say answer whether or when he would be setting up a campaign committee specific for a City Council speakership race, insisting that, at the present time, Councilmembers were focused on their respective September Democratic Party primaries and the November general election. "I will continue to have conversations with my colleagues," he said, adding that he would "put our record in front of the voters." 

Requests made by Progress Queens for information from the New York City Campaign Finance Board for this report were not answered, making it unclear whether the Municipal campaign finance regulatory authority would be asserting jurisdiction over the upcoming speakership race. On the State level, the New York State Board of Elections issued an interpretation of regulations, deeming the City Council speakership race as not requiring registered campaign committees, according to information provided to Progress Queens. "With regard to N.Y. Election Law, Article 14, our lawyers do not believe this qualifies under the definitions of 'political committee' or 'candidate' as the NYC Council Speakership is not elected at a primary, general or special election," wrote, in relevant part, John Conklin, the director of public information at the State campaign finance regulatory authority, in a statement issued to Progress Queens. Of the Councilmembers identified in this report, a review by Progress Queens of campaign committees registered with the State Board of Elections did not readily identify any campaign committees dedicated to the 2017-2018 City Council speakership race. If any campaign committees are so declared, this report will be updated with that information.

The determination made by the State Board of Elections undermines the transparency that allowed the media to review Councilmember Mark-Viverito's use of a campaign committee for her speakership race, analysis that was noted in a report published by Crain's New York Business. In the last Municipal election cycle, Councilmember Mark-Viverito established a campaign committee with the State campaign finance regulatory authority to raise money and pay expenses for an undeclared office in the 2017 Municipal election cycle. In contravention to the declared intention of that campaign committee, Councilmember Mark-Viverito used that campaign committee, in part, for her 2013-2014 speakership campaign. Despite having that campaign committee as a fall-back for her City Council speakership race, Councilmember Mark-Viverito ran afoul of one Municipal agency rule and two sections of the City Charter when she accepted free campaign consulting services for her speakership campaign that violated the City's Lobbyist Gift Law, which forbids public officials from accepting gifts valued at greater than $50 from lobbyists with business before the City of New York. Ultimately, Councilmember Mark-Viverito was compelled to pay approximately $4,000 for campaign consulting services and assessed a fine of $7,000 by the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board for having violating the Lobbyist Gift Law, drawing on campaign committee funds to pay for the financial penalties, according to a report published by The New York Times.

Recommended Reading