While the race for chief executive of this city is front and center, the other major competition underway is for Speaker of the City Council.
Who fills the vacancy that Christine Quinn leaves matters. The City Council Speaker is the most powerful citywide leader, after the mayor. The decisions made by the Speaker affect local council budgets, committee appointments and negotiations with Cityhall. The Speaker has a make-or-break say on a broad range of policies that affect New Yorkers. For example, we saw Speaker Quinn at her best when she defended women’s rights and at her worse when she went along with the Mayor’s overthrow of term limits.
As with everything in this town, the process to become Speaker is highly political. This is why it is important to establish a high bar, as the Council should be on the side of the people, instead of being dominated by wheelers and dealers.
So the next Speaker must be a leader who acts with integrity and who belives in accountability. Any candidate must have a strong record that shows how she or he delivered results to New Yorkers, especially in improving the quality of life of those who are most marginalized. Aspirants must show vision and courage: how did they push the envelope and past the status quo? How did they bring people together?
Candidates who need not apply are those who go along to get along. New Yorkers don’t need more leaders who coast through their careers.
The City must also reflect its demographicsat the highest levels.
Some of the reporting and commentary around the Speakership reflects that some powerbrokers don’t think that the next Speaker should be a person of color. This group believes that with the election of Letitia James, an African American, to Public Advocate, that some quota has been filled.
This idea that you have several white men at the helm of the City, or State, and that it can be a nonissue, while having more than one person of color is somehow “too much” is racist, patronizing, and liberal hypocrisy.
It’s time to move our City forward, especially around leadership. And this means ending some of the power grips that prefer black and brown leaders as passengers, not drivers at the wheel.