Rangel sells Dickens for speaker, but who's buying?
Rep. Charlie Rangel may be mounting a push for her, but it's awfully hard to find anyone else who thinks Councilwoman Inez Dickens still has a reasonable shot at becoming speaker.
It wasn't long ago that Dickens was considered to be among the top contenders to be chosen by the Council's members as the next speaker.
But Dickens' close alliance with outgoing speaker Christine Quinn, who lost badly in the mayoral primary to Bill de Blasio, appear to have hurt her, as did a series of negative reports portraying her as a slumlord.
"Nobody that I've spoken to views her as viable," said one prominent Democratic consultant who is following the in-house race to replace outgoing speaker Christine Quinn.
Another Democratic insider paying close attention to the race said of Dickens, a third-term Democratic councilwoman from Harlem, "For all intents and purposes, she's out. She couldn't overcome the news, even though she explained to the leaders that the buildings are not under her control, that they're family operated, that she inherited them. But if you can't say it in nine words or less, then it's over."
Dickens' longtime ally Rangel hosted a meeting to boost her candidacy Friday morning at Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem.
The hour-long event was held in a private dining room and attracted more than a dozen people, including local business leaders, Democratic power brokers and political operatives.
"This is the initial grass-roots meeting and we hope to blossom throughout the five counties," Rangel, the 83-year-old dean of the city's Congressional delegation, told Capital.
He said the most important quality by which to judge a speaker candidate is "experience in leadership. And support with her colleagues that know her best."
Yet that support doesn't seem to be materializing.
"She's not getting out of the starting gate," said one Council member, noting Dickens endorsed Quinn's failed bid for mayor, while Democratic mayoral candidate de Blasio supported Dickens' opponent Vince Morgan in the September primary.
Two other longtime Council aides said they see no path for a Dickens candidacy.
"She's fallen out of the top tier," said one of the staffers.
A prominent labor operative following the speaker's race said of Dickens, "She's the only one who thinks her candidacy is still viable."
Dickens dismissed concerns about her progressive bona fides, despite her close ties to the Real Estate Board of New York and her initial opposition to the paid-sick-days legislation.
"I think I'm very progressive," she told Capital as she left the event with Rangel. "It depends on what the definition of progressive is. … I believe that we must work with everyone that represents a community including, of course, the residents."
Asked about the doubters, Dickens' finance chairman Brian Benjamin said the race for speaker had barely begun.
"Nobody thought de Blasio was going to win," Benjamin said, referring to the candidate's come-from-behind primary victory.
The 51 Council members select their new speaker in a January election that historically has been decided by coalitions among county leaders. Dickens won't have a strong county organization (Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx) behind her.
This year, the Council's Progressive Caucus, a coalition of some of the most liberal members, may play a significant role too. The caucus will have 15-20 members when the new Council is seated in January, and is all but certain to back someone who is not Dickens.