Mark-Viverito, displeased with Albany, seeks clarity on mayoral control

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City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito may be relatively docile when it comes to criticism of City Hall and her ally, Mayor Bill de Blasio, but she seems very much up for a fight with Albany and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Last month, she took to Twitter to chide Cuomo for his “silence” after a gas explosion devastated her district, and at a recent ceremony for the East Harlem first responders at City Hall, Mark-Viverito cited the “leadership of the mayor,” and thanked city agencies, neighbors and volunteers who rushed to help, but made no mention of Cuomo.

In an interview with Capital, Mark-Viverito said she had nothing else in particular to say about Cuomo, but criticized the state for approving an “irresponsible” budget that undermines mayoral control of schools by guaranteeing charter schools certain protections and funding.

“What was done at the state level, I don't agree with it,” said Mark-Viverito, who was elected speaker by her colleagues after a crucial push by de Blasio. “I don’t think it was right. Suddenly, you know, we had 12 years of Bloomberg and mayoral control was great and fine because it helped everybody that was now opposed.”

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The budget approved by Albany last month requires the city find space for charters that are approved for siting in Department of Education buildings, or to fund the cost of their space in private buildings. Cuomo played a critical role in achieving those protections, publicly joining with charter-school advocates as they rallied against the de Blasio administration’s decision to deny a small number of planned co-locations.

“I think that what happened was was some individuals with certain interests were able to co-opt the debate, and made it seem like it was an anti-charter move when it wasn’t,” she said. “The issue was about co-locations.”

In her East Harlem district office, whose walls are decorated with works by Latin American painters, celebratory campaign banners and odes to Puerto Rico, Mark-Viverito said the Council may decide to take up the issue of city and state control of charter co-locations in the wake of Albany’s actions.

“Yes, I mean, we’re interested in that,” Mark-Viverito said. “I think that there is an overall openness and receptivity into wanting to set clearer guidelines and we’ll probably have hearings at some point.”

In response to a question of when she might find it appropriate to act as a check on the mayor, Mark-Viverito reiterated that while the Council has enjoyed having a mayor who is “philosophically aligned” with them, the possibility of disagreeing is not far-fetched. She suggested the possibility of pushing for non-citizen voting, even though the mayor has yet to voice support for it, and possibly organizing an override if de Blasio vetoed legislation to create it.

“If it comes to a point where there is consideration of a veto, [then] we’re going to be able to coalesce and have the votes to override it,” she said. “But we’re not anywhere near that yet. My interest is to support members in the issues of developing an agenda that we can all rally behind as a Council and that we can get the support of the administration. Ultimately you want to succeed.”

It’s not a given that the Council will coalesce in such circumstances. Led by a key Mark-Viverito ally on the Council, Progressive Caucus co-chair Brad Lander, the body is in the process of rewriting its bylaws in way that will reduce leadership’s ability to compel members to stay in line. The changes would reform the way in which money is allocated to individual councilmembers, create a bill-drafting unit, and give members more power over scheduling hearings and introducing bills.

Mark-Viverito said, “No, you know there is still going to be some order. It’s not going to be like everybody running off the ranch. When you empower people, people hold responsibility with the power that you’re sharing with them. People become more invested in the institution and want to be protective of the institution.”

Asked if she would sign off on reforms that would benefit members who opposed her election, Mark-Viverito said she would, but indicated she'd still be in charge.

“I definitely support a way of allocating funds that is more equitable and will really speak to the needs that the districts have," she said. "The speaker still has, obviously, some aspects of allocation she can also be supportive of, additional to that.”