Every four years, voters in New York City, for better and for worse, elect an entire new body of members to the Municipal legislature, the New York City Council. The Councilmembers are primarily tasked with passing the City budget. The body, flooded by the role of money in local politics, does little else. It provides lax or failed oversight in respect of important Municipal functions, like defending the right to vote, like making sure that the Municipal public school system is in compliance with Federal laws about accessibility for people with disabilities ; like making sure that residents of public housing are not exposed to toxins, like lead and mold ; like making sure that the City did not violate clean water laws. Increasingly, all of the Municipal legislature's oversight failures have resulted in Federal supervision of important functions normally under the sole authority of the New York City Council. These failures are the record of the Municipal legislature's leaders, who set and control its legislative and policy agenda.
Predictably, because of the out-sized role of money in local politics, the body of members to the Municipal legislature obsesses over any changes to land use, like applications for zone-busting developments or the rezonings of entire neighborhoods, in order to straight-away facilitate the gentrification sought by large campaign donors. In New York City, one of the most influential sources of large campaign contributions is the real estate development industry. Campaign contributors from the real estate industry are able to exert undue influence over the New York City Council, largely guaranteeing that land use applications, zoning legislation, and leadership posts, are decided to create significant financial benefit to certain participants in the real estate industry.
As reported by Progress Queens, real estate donations have made their way into both ends of this year's race to select the next Council speaker, the top leadership post of the Municipal legislature, a position described as the second-most powerful post in City Government. In one instance, the lobbyist of one real estate development firm was a large campaign bundler to the presumed, next Council speaker, Councilmember Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea), at the same time when that very same real estate development firm was the top source of donations to a Super PAC headed by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens), who, this year, is exercising almost exclusive power to name the Council speaker.
The New York City Council has a pattern of bestowing significant financial benefits to certain participants of the real estate industry, like BFC Partners and L+M Development Partners, which purchased into a consortium into which various project-based, Section 8 apartment buildings had been transferred for privatisation. The New York City Council has approved the sale or lease of strategic public assets to private sector real estate developers, like public libraries, armouries, and green spaces. Leadership posts, are given to Councilmembers, who the real estate industry can count on to facilitate the privatisation of public housing, for example. These official acts and these leadership appointments, which contribute to gentrification and which are in contravention to the significant public interest in keeping New York City affordable, are only made possible as a result of a political lockstep demanded by a politician machine that answers only to the campaign donation class.
Recently, advocates for Government reform have increasingly tried to elect an independent, third-party candidate to the City Council, each time attempting to introduce a new legislator to the political system, who would be willing to break the political lockstep, thereby offering the promise of the beginning of systemic reform. This year, however, one gear already in the tightly wound-up political system has come loose : Councilmember Inez Barron (D-East New York). Councilmember Barron made formal on Wednesday an announcement that she was launching a last-minute bid to become the next Council speaker. Her campaign has been premised on the need for diversity in the City's leadership ranks. Although many have rushed to see that race would be Councilmember Barron's raison d'être, few have focused on the need for another kind of diversity : that of acting in the best economic interest of the citizenry. This should be a year when advances in both kinds of diversity should be made.
The wife of Assemblymember Charles Barron (D-East New York), Councilmember Barron cast a vote to reject the upzoning of East New York under the de Blasio administration, joining her husband is standing up against real estate developers. When Assemblymember Barron served in the New York City Council prior to joining the Lower House in the State legislature, he was the sole no vote to reject the luxury condominium conversion of the former campus of St. Vincent's Hospital. Councilmember Barron has also demonstrated leadership on offering economic relief to the public by sponsoring legislation that would examine the possibility of eliminating tuition at the City University of New York. The political lockstep that keeps a strangle-hold over City Hall and the New York City Council would normally never permit leadership that would advocate for this kind of independence, this kind of reform. It is long over-due, out of an interest in diversity, that ideas of offering economic relief to the citizenry become represented in the City's leadership ranks.
Four years ago, concerns over ethics led the Editorial Boards of a host of newspapers to oppose the predetermined speakership of Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem), including The New York Daily News, The New York Times, and The New York Post. Despite those concerns, the political machine never once let up, forcing the body of members of the Municipal legislature to promptly vote for a Council speaker out of a manufactured sense of urgency at the first Stated meeting of that year then. Given concerns about the controversy over the role of money in local politics, a Federal complaint alleging possible impropriety in the Council speaker race, and some racial strife, the body of members to the Municipal legislature would be wise to delay, at least by one week, the vote to determine the Council speaker. Permit Councilmember Barron to make her case for why she deserves to become Council speaker. Let her make her arguments for diversity. Let's hear from stakeholders, who, in recent years, have lost their autonomy to cast ballots for their own leader : the body of members to the Municipal legislature. Let's also hear from stakeholders, who normally never get to have a say in who gets to lead the Municipal legislature : let's hear from the voters.
Given the New York City Council's record of such failed oversight, what impact would it have to delay by one week a vote on the top leadership post ?
-- Progress Queens
- Councilmember Inez Barron announces insurgent campaign to become next speaker of City Council [Progress Queens]
- Large real estate donations find their way into both ends of New York City Council speaker race [Progress Queens]
- Facing racial backlash, presumed next Council speaker Corey Johnson reportedly assaulted Black man in 2013 [Progress Queens]
- UPDATED : In speaker race, 32 City legislators pledge votes for TBA Council speaker candidate to U.S. Rep. Crowley : report [Progress Queens]
- After U.S. Attorney removals in NYC, replacements yet to affix own stamp on reform [Progress Queens]
- Corey Johnson's City Council calendar a political potato too hot for a campaign supporter [Progress Queens]