Mark-Viverito’s campaign is just getting started

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Melissa Mark-Viverito. (flickr.com/MelissaMarkViverito)
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The stage is set for Melissa Mark-Viverito to go public with her campaign for Council speaker.

Mark-Viverito, a Manhattan Democrat who co-chairs the body's Progressive Caucus, will be toasted at a reception Thursday evening hosted by 1199SEIU, one of the most politically powerful unions in the city and a key early backer of Bill de Blasio for mayor.

1199 will be honoring Viverito and incoming public advocate Letitia James at the annual Somos El Futuro Fall Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

With nearly every other major union in the city ditching de Blasio in the primary, the health care-workers' union emerged a clear winner this election season, and its backing of Viverito is a boon for the strong-willed councilwoman. Viverito worked for the union before getting elected to the Council in 2005.

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Some political insiders expect the event to be, as one put it, "a big coming-out party for her" as a speaker candidate. 

The Council speaker is traditionally selected by Democratic county leaders, who influence how members will vote. Outgoing speaker Christine Quinn's victory in 2006 resulted from her successful courtship of the powerful Queens County Democratic organization, for instance.

De Blasio, himself a failed candidate for speaker, is now in a strong position to influence the outcome of the race.

He has not denied a report that he is making calls on Viverito's behalf, news that would be at odds with an alternate, popular theory that he'd prefer a more moderate, less ideological speaker who could give him cover with his liberal base when he is inevitably forced as mayor to make compromises. 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg had virtually no role in picking a speaker for the overwhelmingly Democratic Council, and nor did his predecessor Rudy Giuliani.

Mark-Viverito's candidacy will be something of a test for the Progressive Caucus, a 16-plus-member group of the Council's most liberal officials that now has an opportunity to increase their clout with a de Blasio administration in City Hall.

Mark-Viverito co-chairs the caucus with Brad Lander of Brooklyn, and appears to be the group's natural choice, though there have been rumblings that another member, Jumaane Williams, may also run for speaker. Williams scored a huge win by sponsoring two bills to curb the use of stop-and-frisk, which passed the Council over Bloomberg's vociferous objections (and vetoes).

Mark-Viverito (unlike Williams) is perceived among some of her colleagues as distant, though several members have said that she has gone out of her way recently to court them. One source said she dispatched aides to assist several Council candidates in their get-out-the-vote operations this week.

Asked for comment on her speaker plans, Mark-Viverito, who is in Puerto Rico, responded through a spokesman: "I'm so happy to be celebrating this progressive moment in my hometown. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the City Council to help bring about the progressive changes that New Yorkers are calling for."

Among her likely challengers for speaker are Dan Garodnick of Manhattan and Mark Weprin of Queens.