In January, the New York City Council will elect its new Speaker, the second most important position after mayor. Latinos and the city overall need the best-qualified person to be at the helm of the Council, and that person is Melissa Mark-Viverito.
The Councilwoman, who represents a district that includes East Harlem and neighborhoods in the Bronx, has advocated for the Council to respond more effectively to the needs of historically neglected communities. Because of her positions on critical issues —such as expanding the right to paid sick days to all workers, minimum wage pegged to the city’s cost of living, and measures that address unscrupulous landlords and promote affordable housing— she is the leading candidate for this position.
Mark-Viverito is also at the forefront of the participatory budget process, which allows residents to decide how to allocate discretionary funds. Her record on immigrant rights is outstanding. She introduced a bill that prevents NYPD officers from acting as federal immigration agents and expanded protections for immigrants detained in municipal jails to avoid unjustified deportations. The Urban Justice Center has given her its highest ratings on human rights issues.
Mark-Viverito is currently a front-runner among seven candidates (the others are Mark Weprin, Dan Garodnick, Inez Dickens, Jimmy Vacca, Annabel Palma and Jumaane Williams). This is a result of her work and the growing power of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, a group of 11 (which will grow to 20 in January) that is addressing social and economic inequality. Mark-Viverito serves as its co-chair. The Caucus has yet to announce which candidate it will back.
The election of the Speaker—which in theory happens through a Council vote—has been traditionally steered with behind-the-scenes negotiations between leaders of borough political machines and Council members. However, the emergence of the Progressive Caucus as a competitive force that validates other candidates is a benefit to the democratic process.
The possibility of electing Mark-Viverito, a candidate who is not from traditional party organizations and conservative sectors, is perceived as a threat by some. It’s no coincidence that she has been the target of a barrage of attacks in the English-language press. No other candidate for Speaker has been criticized as much as her.
We’re convinced that Mark-Viverito has the strength and character to defend her positions, even in tough times. She will be an ally for the community when the new mayor moves toward the center to manage conflicting interests in this city. We also believe in her ability to negotiate issues where she and De Blasio differ, such as on the bill to allow legal permanent residents to vote in municipal elections.
The election of a highly qualified Latina would also set a precedent in this City, since 30 percent of the population is Hispanic but our representation at the top levels of government leaves much to be desired.We strongly urge Council members, party leaders and the mayor-elect to give Melissa Mark-Viverito the opportunity to move forward with the Council’s progressive agenda for the next four years.