Melissa Mark-Viverito, first Latin Council speaker, mum on support for Inez Barron, seeking to become first Black Council speaker


Following an announcement by Councilmember Inez Barron (D-East New York) that she was launching a last-minute campaign to become the next speaker of the New York City Council, a super-majority of members of the Municipal legislature's Black, Latino/a, and Asian Caucus, or BLA Caucus, have remained mum, including the current Council speaker.

Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem), who successfully campaigned to become the first Latin Council speaker four years ago, has not issued a statement in support of Councilmember Barron's campaign to become a history-making first Council speaker to be Black. The press office servicing Council Speaker Mark-Viverito did not answer inquiries made by Progress Queens for this report. Councilmember Mark-Viverito is a member of the BLA Caucus.

Councilmember Barron launched her speakership campaign to "become the first Black Speaker," noting that the top Municipal legislature leadership post had been held by White men, by a White woman, by a Latin woman, but that no Black had yet held the post. "It's our turn now," Councilmember Barron said during a unity rally on Tuesday night, when she first made her announcement during an invite-only meeting.

Besides Councilmember Barron, five of the nine Council speaker candidates are also members of the 22-member strong BLA Caucus : Councilmembers Ritchie Torres (D-Fordham), Robert Cornegy Jr. (D-Crown Heights), Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Inwood), Donovan Richards Jr. (D-The Rockaways), and Jumaane Williams (D-Canarsie). The sole BLA Caucus member amongst the five other Council speaker candidates to respond to inquiries made by Progress Queens was Councilmember Williams.

In a statement issued to Progress Queens, Councilmember Jumaane said that the arguments for greater diversity in leadership posts, for a Black Council speaker, needed to be taken seriously, saying, "As I have been saying, these issues are beyond me or any particular candidacy. I'm glad that others are involved to help push the importance of elevating leaders of more color in powerful positions within government. I am particularly glad that women, whose voices are also too often marginalized, are confronting this issue head on," adding that, "The issues I have raised are not connected to any committee assignments and are far beyond my candidacy. They are real and must be addressed in a real and  systemic way during the next term. I welcome Councilmember Barron's voice to that end."

Councilmember Williams did not outright deny a charge made by Councilmember Barron that each of the other minority candidates for Council speaker had not "unequivocally affirmed that he would remain as a candidate for Speaker when the actual vote will be taken at the first Stated Meeting on January 3, 2018." In the time since it was reported that U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens) had selected Councilmember Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea) to become the next Council speaker, many of the Council speaker candidates had reportedly ended their respective speakership campaigns. Councilmember Williams appeared to rebut another charged leveled by Councilmember Barron, namely, that it appeared that the other minority Council speaker candidates were "willing to accept other assignments" in exchange for conceding the speakership race to Councilmember Johnson.

It was notable that telephone calls placed on Wednesday by Progress Queens to many members of the BLA Caucus were not answered. Follow-up e-mails were similarly not answered. The offices of Councilmembers Johnson, Mark Levine (D-West Harlem), and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) did not answer phone calls or e-mails requesting a response to Councilmember Barron's speakership campaign.

Activists experience discord ; U.S. Rep. Crowley withdraws from any accountability on race

Amongst the activist community in New York City, Councilmember Barron's speakership campaign was causing some discord between some activists, who rejected identity politics as a pretext for electoral or leadership campaigns, and other activists, who expressed support for Councilmember Barron based on her record of economic policy and legislation. Although Councilmember Johnson has been described in some political circles as having been the candidate, who had won the support of the Real Estate Board of New York, a powerful lobbying association of real estate developers, a leader of at least one advocacy group was improbably siding with Councilmember Johnson in the speakership campaign. Some activists have expressed support for Councilmember Barron based on her record of voting against the de Blasio administration's gentrification plan for her Council district.

Also remaining silent in the face of a controversy over the role of money in local politics and other racial strife was U.S. Rep. Crowley. His office did not answer inquiries made by Progress Queens.

As reported by Progress Queens, U.S. Rep. Crowley backed a White Councilmember for Council speaker based, in at least in part, on a political calculation that minority leaders would remain in a political lockstep behind the neoliberal priorities of the Democratic Party that elevate into leadership posts elected officials, who support policies and agendas that are friendly to the big business interests, which fund the Democratic Party. In New York City, for example, big business interests have supported race-based policing, particularly since heavy policing supports the gentrification sought by real estate developers. In a report published by Jacobin, it was noted that race-based policing was intended to support real estate development : "From the start broken windows has been inseparable from policies to promote economic development and gentrification. The policy has not only accelerated the criminalization of people of color, but also worked hand in hand with pro-development schemes that make more and more New York City neighborhoods un-affordable."*

For her part, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito denied that race played a role in the race-based homicide of Eric Garner, and she expanded the police force during a time of a wide-ranging corruption scandal at the New York Police Department. For decades, activists have called for improved accountability and reform at the police department. In the last decade, Council speakers have generally abdicated any oversight on policing matters to the NYPD. During this time, U.S. Rep. Crowley has largely failed to demonstrate any leadership on issues related to race, particularly related to the discrimination endemic to the race-based policing policies of the NYPD, notable, given that, a former Council speaker of his choosing, then Councilmember Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea), for example, visibly abdicated oversight on policing matters, like the parade permit rules, to the NYPD.

* UPDATE : This report was updated with supplemental information about the use of race-based policing to spreading gentrification.