Complaints mount in Council about Mark-Viverito
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is facing her first widespread fight with members, nearly three months after winning the job.
The burgeoning discontent has been prompted, most recently, by the speaker's appointments to the body's "budget negotiating team," or BNT.
Several members, including some of her allies in the Progressive Caucus, are furious they were left out of the group, and recently held a conference call to air their concerns, multiple sources told Capital.
Other members are upset they were not informed directly by the speaker or her aides about the makeup of the team, which reviews the city's budget and determines the Council's priorities before it is adopted on July 1.
Capital first reported the new BNT members earlier this week.
"There is a huge problem with communication now," said a member who was appointed to the BNT. "That's what a lot of members are upset about, finding things out at the last minute. They don't feel informed."
Several members participated in a conference call Wednesday night to vent about the new speaker, who was elected by a unanimous vote of the body on Jan. 8, after weeks of an intense and sometimes bitter fight with her top rival in the election, Dan Garodnick of Manhattan. (Garodnick was appointed to the BNT.)
Capital interviewed seven members for this article, and reached out to others who declined to talk. Each of the members who was interviewed, with the exception of Elizabeth Crowley of Queens, asked for anonymity, for fear of alienating Mark-Viverito.
"Everyone is upset because they didn't get properly informed," one member, who was upset over being left off BNT, told Capital. "I think some members are going to get together and address the issue. I think there should be better communication between the speaker and the members."
Some of the members seemed particularly offended that Mark-Viverito abandoned the custom of appointing the chairs of each borough delegation within the Council to sit on the BNT.
"The people who seem to be the most upset about it are those who are delegation heads," said another member who is not on the team. "The job of a delegation head is to keep those members informed."
The delegation leaders who were not appointed include Corey Johnson of Manhattan, Mark Weprin of Queens, Carlos Menchaca and Darlene Mealy of Brooklyn and Annabel Palma of the Bronx.
Eric Koch, a spokesman for Mark-Viverito, said she is committed to transparency. He did not answer specific questions about discussions between the speaker and disgruntled members.
"From Day 1, Melissa has been dedicated to reforming how the Council has done business to make it a more open, efficient and deliberative body and the whole budget process will reflect those values and commitments," Koch said.
Crowley, who co-chairs the Council's women's caucus, said, "I would like to be on the budget negotiating team; I've been on the budget negotiating team in the past."
Displeasure with Mark-Viverito's leadership style, which has been building since she announced a deal with Mayor Bill de Blasio to expand the city's paid-sick-days bill without telling members, has spilled into the Progressive Caucus, which she founded and co-chairs.
"People are frustrated," yet another one of the unappointed members said. "They don't know how this group came together and we've had no explanations."
Mark-Viverito promised to be more approachable and inclusive than her predecessor, Christine Quinn, who was often criticized for ruling the Council with a heavy hand. But between the delayed consultation over the paid-sick bill, which members learned about from the media, and the new appointments to BNT, some of her colleagues are growing skeptical of that campaign commitment.
Several of the members interviewed for this article said they felt Mark-Viverito, so far, has been less inclusive than her predecessor.
Another member selected for the budget team said Mark-Viverito did float the possibility of altering the makeup of the team: "The budget negotiating team used to look a certain way, and they decided to reconstruct it. Quite frankly, this was discussed at leadership. There were suggestions made to the speaker, but she's using her power, and I believe in the speaker's right to use her power, to override suggestions that were made to her."
"Yes, people are frustrated," the member continued. "They're frustrated because there was a promise of transparency, and there was as promise of rules reform, there was a promise that members would have a say and it would all be kumbaya, but that obviously wasn't adhered to."
The speaker, in a toast to departing longtime Council aide Chuck Meara at a party Wednesday night, noted in tribute that councilmembers are "tough to please."