An ally and maybe a thorn

ally-and-maybe-thorn
Melissa Mark-Viverito. (William Alatriste/New York City Council)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

Bill de Blasio may succeed in making Melissa Mark-Viverito Council speaker, but that doesn't mean he's going to get his way once she's in.

In Mark-Viverito, the mayor-elect has a conditional ally: a strident liberal who, despite their close bond, backs a host of measures he either opposes or is hesitant to take a position on.

Mark-Viverito will owe de Blasio, if she wins the highly competitive in-house speaker election on Jan. 8, for his push to get members to back her. The two are philosophically in sync: She shares his views on income inequality and empowering unions, and was quick to endorse him in the Democratic mayoral primary.

But on specific issues, some differences between the two officials are already apparent.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

De Blasio has spoken against a bill in the Council to legalize noncitizen voting, a measure Mark-Viverito, an outspoken advocate for immigrants' rights, co-sponsored.

During a general-election debate in October, de Blasio voiced concern with the legislation, which has languished in a Council committee since May.

"I've talked to the advocates on that issue," he said during the debate. "They've presented their plan to me. I'm not comfortable with it at this point. It's I think an idea that is founded in good intent, but there's a number of specifics that I can't agree with, at least as it's written now."

While fighting in the Democratic primary, de Blasio called for an end to the Council's member items, claiming the discretionary funds that are allocated to individual members for nonprofits in their districts is an invitation for fraud. (De Blasio accepted these funds for eight years when he was in the Council, from 2002 through 2009.)

Mark-Viverito favors amending the funding process to give lower-income districts more money, rather than distributing the money arbitrarily, as is the current practice. No speaker is likely to support terminating discretionary funds, which embolden the legislative leader with the ability to reward and punish members, something outgoing Speaker Christine Quinn was heavily criticized for doing.

Another topic where they are not on the same page is the little-known practice of using eminent domain to buy homes facing foreclosure.

During a candidate forum in Jackson Heights, Mark-Viverito floated the idea of allowing the city to take on such mortgages so New Yorkers preparing to be kicked out of their houses can stay while they repay the money.

A similar proposal was approved in Richmond, Calif.

Earlier this month, a group of organizations close to de Blasio called for the same plan in a broader budget proposal.

Through a spokeswoman, de Blasio declined to comment on that plan, which could cost the city dearly as he works to balance the budget each year. (By law, the budget must be balanced and on time to spare the city from a takeover by the Financial Control Board.)

On another issue facing the Council, Mark-Viverito recently rallied in favor of a bill to crack down on car wash operators.

"It's amazing to me that an industry that uses the kind of ingredients, or chemicals, that are used in a car wash are not regulated," she said. "It just doesn't make sense to me."

She is the main sponsor of the "carwash accountability act," which would require such operators to be licensed and follow regulations surrounding wages and waste disposal.

In terms of getting the mayor-elect on board, she said at the time she "would think it's right up his alley in terms of the way he has expressed support in other issues."

De Blasio declined to take a specific stance on the bill, when Capital asked his spokesman after the rally, held on the steps of City Hall on Dec. 12.

"Mayor-elect de Blasio and his team will review the bill. He has been a strong supporter of the right of car wash workers to organize and has been clear that the city should not work with car wash owners who engage in union-busting," spokeswoman Lis Smith told Capital at the time.

Another sticking point likely to cause friction between the mayor-elect and Mark-Viverito is retroactive pay.

Presently every union in the city is working under an expired contract, and de Blasio has said he would not provide back pay unless he can come up with equivalent cost savings.

Mark-Viverito is a fierce union ally who worked for the powerful health care workers' union, 1199SEIU.

"Melissa strongly supports an independent City Council and, as speaker, would be an aggressive defender of the institution and its members," her spokesman, Eric Koch, said when asked about the possible pending disputes with de Blasio. "In 2013 New Yorkers overwhelming chose progressive change by electing Bill de Blasio and that mandate extends to the City Council."