Ousted chairs see ‘retribution’

Mark-Viverito. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
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A handful of councilmembers who opposed Melissa Mark-Viverito's campaign for speaker suffered sudden demotions on Wednesday, when they were replaced as committee chairs by key supporters of the new speaker.

"It's clear that there is retribution, there is punishment," said Annabel Palma of the Bronx, who previously chaired the council's General Welfare Committee. "You have the highest-ranking Latina in the Council, the second most senior member, a 10-year member, you read between the lines."

Palma was stripped of her chairmanship on Wednesday, when the council's Rules Committee voted 7-0 to approve a slate of new committee assignments put forward by Mark-Viverito, who was elected speaker earlier this month after a fractious fight with Councilman Dan Garodnick.

Palma was one of the last, and loudest, opponents of Mark-Viverito's campaign, choosing to stand with her Bronx delegation in support of Garodnick until the final day, when Garodnick finally conceded the race shortly before the vote.

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Palma will be replaced as chair by Councilman Stephen Levin, a member of the Brooklyn delegation that broke with county leaders in the Bronx and Queens to back Mark-Viverito, and a member of the council's left-leaning Progressive Caucus, which Mark-Viverito helped co-found.

"This was clearly Progressive Caucus versus non-members who are not part of the Progressive Caucus," said Palma, who said she will vote against Levin's appointment.

Palma and another Bronx member, Councilman Andy King, were two of just four members not to receive any chairmanship.

“I guess politics," said King, when asked why that might be the case. "I don’t know.”

King is closely aligned with 1199 SEIU, the powerful health care union that backed Mark-Viverito, but he aligned himself with the Bronx county leadership behind Garodnick, angering some progressives.

“You probably can connect some dots on that string that you’re talking about," said King, in a bowtie, when asked about the politics of his support for Garodnick. "But for me, I guess I got to figure out right now how I do my job.”

Councilwoman Rosie Mendez of Manhattan also lost her post as chair of the council's Public Housing Committee.

"I'm disappointed I don't get to chair something, but that's life, we're adults," said Mendez, who supported Garodnick, but was seen as relatively neutral in the speaker's race.

A source familiar with the proceedings said Mendez was a victim of her late-breaking support, and the lack of a strong county organization in Manhattan.

"Counties lobbied for their people; caucus lobbies for their people; a handful of independents came on board before Brooklyn County did, so Melissa Mark-Viverito looked out for them," the source said. "Rosie was an independent who didn't join team MMV and didn't have a county."

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, a Queens member who backed Garodnick, lost her chairmanship of the Committee on Economic Development, and was given the less prestigious Committee on State and Federal Legislation. (The economic development committee was given instead to Garodnick, whose late withdrawal from the race helped Mark-Viverito win unanimously, if not unitedly.)

And Rory Lancman, a freshman councilman from Queens who also aligned with his county leader in opposing Mark-Viverito’s bid for speaker, did not receive a chairmanship.

He told Capital he “can’t say” if his support for Garodnick played a role, but added, “many who supported Dan [Garodnick] did get committees.”

Asked why he though he didn’t get a chairmanship, Lancman replied, “You’d have to ask the speaker.”

Mark-Viverito told reporters that the process was based on "extensive conversations" with members.

"This is a process in which we've been very deliberate," she said. "I spoke to all of my colleagues over the course of time, to find out the issues and concerns and I believe I came to a decision that will truly reflect the work that we have ahead of us and that will be in the best interest of the city of New York."

Councilman Brad Lander, an ally of the speaker who was named chair of the Rules Committee, said the conversations included advocates, and representatives of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“I heard personally from Council members first and foremost," Lander said. "And then I heard from a lot of other people, housing advocates, transportation advocates, I heard from good government groups, I heard from unions, I heard from the business community, from a lot of people who reached out.”

Asked by Capital if the mayor’s office was part of the conversation, Lander paused and then said, “Yeah, I guess I did talk to members of the administration, in addition to all these other people.”

Palma, for her part, said she ended the conversations early, when the process appeared to be preordained.

"I knew, in communicating with the speaker's office, I was never going to be given to be chair of general welfare, that was made clear throughout the process." 

--Additional reporting by Sally Goldenberg