After General Election, All Eyes Shift To NYC Council Speaker’s Race

Brannan Building A Base

Even with external forces attempting to steer the race a certain way, council members will ultimately be swayed by what speaker candidates are offering to the body. In some ways, each of the candidates’ pitches are remarkably the same: the council will need a leader best suited in pushing the city forward by helping their members shine across the city’s 51 districts.

“I think when the job is done right, the speaker shouldn’t be in the spotlight but behind the scenes,” Brannan, who has represented Brooklyn’s 43rd District, said.

Brannan appears to have adopted that strategy in his path to the speakership, building a broad coalition of labor unions and Democratic colleagues. His social media account has chronicled his support for new members of the incoming class, joining them on the campaign trail during the primary. Brannan made at least 15 official endorsements of council candidates in the primary, according to a review of candidates’ websites, with 12 going on to win in the general election.

But while Brannan could be among the top contenders, he has not yet secured re-election. He and Republican Brian Fox remain in a tight race for his city council seat, and ballots are still being counted.

If elected, a drawback Brannan will likely contend with is the perception that citywide power is concentrated in Brooklyn, where Mayor-elect Eric Adams, Comptroller-elect Brad Lander, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams hail from.

Brannan isn’t exactly deterred by geo-politics, declaring it’s time for an “outer-borough worldview,” a likely dig at the fact that four of the five speakers in the modern council have represented parts of Manhattan and thus have been able to offer greater resources.

“I don’t think your proximity to City Hall should not dictate the attention and the resources that you get,” Brannan said.

Rivera & Ayala Seek To Be Council’s 2nd Latina Speaker

But also hurting Brannan’s chances is the imminent tenor of the council, which is slated to be the most diverse and have a majority of women members for the first time. A greater argument has since emerged that the next speaker should be a woman of color, opening the door for council members Adams, Ayala, or Rivera to obtain front-runner status.

“I tell people that with a woman of color at the helm we can finally address inequitable outcomes for women, particularly women of color and maternal mortality or morbidity. We can fight for better pay and workplace conditions for working class immigrant women,” Rivera, who represents Manhattan’s 2nd Council District, said in an interview. She said that as a speaker, she would serve as a “champion for everyone across all five boroughs.”

Rivera, who is chair of the Hospitals Committee, is leveraging her legislative experience as part of her pitch, running down a list of accomplishments that included passage of a bill that ensured construction sites keep existing bicycle lanes clear from equipment or other obstructions. Rivera was also heavily active during the primary, endorsing at least 20 candidates, according to a review of council members’ campaign websites, of which 16 went on to win the general election.

Ayala, who previously served as chief of staff in 2017 to speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, was not made available for an interview. A Manhattan and Bronx lawmaker representing the 8th Council District, Ayala is also a Latina council member who has stumped for various candidates during the race. Another Manhattan council member-elect, current Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, is also mulling a run. Her involvement can further complicate the race as it could split the Manhattan votes even more, imperiling Manhattan’s chances of another speaker there.

Adrienne Adams Wants To Make History

The need for an outer-borough speaker is part of the strategy employed by Councilmember Adrienne Adams, who represents the 28th District, covering the southeast Queens neighborhoods of Jamaica, Richmond Hill, Rochdale Village, and South Ozone Park. Adams also chairs the Public Safety Committee, and co-chairs the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus alongside outgoing Councilmember Daneek Miller. If Adams is elected, she would be the first Black speaker in the City Council, adding to a string of firsts for Black legislators across the city. Adams worked in the private sector for 20 years and chaired her local community board — two settings where she recalled instilling a sense of order.

But an intense primary challenge, where she fended off two challengers, has left her catching up to Rivera and Brannan in establishing friendships with soon-to-be new council members. Since the primary, she said she’s had conversations with nearly every new member explaining her position to ensure every district is protected, and “not just Manhattan.”

Powers Seeks Power

In an interview with Gothamist/WNYC, Powers said he’s found new members placing a premium on whether the new speaker can collaborate well with individual members, particularly on economic recovery.

“During my time at the council, I’ve tried to be somebody that’s pragmatic, problem-solving and a good consensus builder,” Powers, who represents Manhattan’s 4th Council District, said. “As I talk to the members that are coming into the council I think what they ask for is someone that’s really gonna be focused on helping to get their priorities done and that’s something I’m really aiming to help them out with.”

In his conversations, Powers has found new members–14 of whom he endorsed during their primaries–prefer to establish greater independence in deciding who will be their next speaker.

“I think there are a lot of new members who consider themselves independent of the normal power structures, but obviously everybody’s going to play a role in helping decide who the next speaker is because a lot of this is about folks talking to each other and figuring out what they think is best for the city,” Powers said.

Moya Wants To Make His Mark

On the other side of Queens is Moya, who represents the borough’s northern neighborhoods of Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Corona for the 21st Council District, and is among the other outer-borough candidates looking to make their mark. In an interview, Moya said the council should be managed in “a collective but decisive manner” and look out for the new members.

“What we need to do is let them know that they have a seat at the table,” Moya said. “As the speaker, we’re looking to empower them.”

Compared to Rivera, Powers, or Brannan, Moya has not invested the same amount of time on the campaign trail on behalf of members, which could reduce his solid vote count. Moya, however, did emerge as an early supporter of Mayor-elect Adams, and is uniquely positioned to collaborate well with the future mayor. Moya, however, affirmed he won’t be a shill for the mayor if elected.

Will Mayor-Elect Adams Interject?

Mayor-elect Adams has so far not stepped into the race, but Coffey, the political consultant, notes he could very well be the swing kingmaker in the race, leveraging his labor union support and strong ties to congressional members to steer votes to the speaker of his choice. Those conversations could very well be had at the annual Somos Conference, an influential meeting among the city’s legislators that’s held in Puerto Rico shortly after the November election. The mayor-elect, along with every speaker candidate, is expected to attend.

“Many of them are going to do whatever he asks them to do,” Coffey said.

Read More: New York Elected Officials Flock To Annual Conference In Puerto Rico: Here’s Why You Should Care

A spokesperson for Adams did respond to a request for comment. However, Politico reported in September that members have dined with Adams, where they raised interest in running for the speaker’s race.

Mark-Viverito, the former council speaker, also agrees that a majority-female council demands a woman speaker. However, just whether that might even happen remains “fluid.”

“There’s not really a firm sense of who any one candidate is at the lead,” Mark-Viverito said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, relationship building, etc. And so, from my sense, it’s still completely an open game.”

The article was updated to reflect that there have been five speakers so far in the modern council.

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