Before her speaker run, a councilwoman starts saying the pledge

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Melissa Mark-Viverito, one of the leading candidates to become the next City Council speaker, declined to say the Pledge of Allegiance at Council meetings until last month.

Mark-Viverito, an unabashed liberal who was arrested during an Occupy Wall Street protest, downplayed her silence, and her apparent change of heart.

"I have always stood for the Pledge of Allegiance," she said in a prepared statement. "I love this country and I love this city. Growing up in Puerto Rico, my dream was to come to New York because I knew it was the greatest city in the world."

Will Sweeney, an unpaid supporter, returned a call Capital placed with her staff on Monday night, and said that until now she was unfamiliar with the significance of the pledge, and with how her decision not to recite it was being interpreted. 

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"She's always stood, she's always respected it and she didn't realize," Sweeney said. "She grew up in Puerto Rico and they didn't do the pledge."

Sweeney said another member approached Mark-Viverito "a few months ago," and the two had a frank conversation during which the member expressed her discontent, and Mark-Viverito realized her actions were being misinterpreted. At that point, Sweeney said, she decided to begin reciting the pledge.

"I think people are trying to paint her in an unfair way, and it's a whole lot of nothing," Sweeney said.

"It just feels like Obama and the flag pin all over again," he added.

(During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama's opponents tried to make an issue of his reluctance to wear an American flag brooch on his lapel.)

Mark-Viverito's speaker ambitions have already made her a target of the New York Post, which reported on her 2005 trip to Bolivia and implied she is sympathetic to the anti-American president Evo Morales.

Staten Island councilman Vincent Ignizio, a Republican, contends that the pledge, and her decision to start reciting it, is an issue, too.

"Clearly this is rewriting history for a Council member who's trying to fit into a more mainstream citywide post and not her reputation of a very left-leaning district and agenda," said Ignizio, one of three Republicans on the Council, who is poised to become the body's minority leader in January.

"I just don't buy it; I don't think most people will buy it," he said. "She is one of the most polarizing figures in the City Council."

Mark-Viverito seems to have the tacit support of incoming mayor Bill de Blasio, whom she endorsed early in the Democratic primary, though de Blasio has publicly demurred when asked who he supports for speaker.

Another council member who refused to say the pledge, Charles Barron, is a former Black Panther who recently announced his run for state Assembly.

NOTE: This article has been updated to clarify the context of Sweeney's remarks, which pertained to what he says was her surprise at how her actions were interpreted, not a lack of familiarity with the pledge itself.