By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
"We sure could live with her," seems to be the buzz inside of
Queens Democratic circles.
No, political insiders are not playing the dating game;
theyre fantasizing about the next speaker of the City Council.
And the Councilwoman-elect from Forest Hills is one of the long-shot
possibilities who could wind up as a compromise choice. Parlaying her Assembly and Borough
Hall experience, the polished politician has emerged as a possible powerful player.
Come January 2002, when Speaker Peter Vallone and 35 other Council
members are term limited out of the City Council, there will be a new, younger, energized
Council where a new class of 36 will have more to say than the senior members most
of whom have only two years left until they too are term-limit history. And so, the
maneuvering has gotten hot and heavy to gain strongholds on the leadership roles.
Under Speaker Vallone, the Council was autocratic with the
speakers single voice calling just about every shot. Although, by the nature of
legislative bodies, budgets and assignments, the speaker will always have great clout,
dont expect the new speaker to rule with the same absolute force Vallone did. Look
for a more collegial and hopefully more effective deliberative body committed to serving
the City and individual districts.
These guys and gals are here for a max of eight years and better do an
impressive job if they hope to achieve other elective office. Additionally, they will have
to build or be part of effective political operations to insure their future prosperity in
the government game.
The first lesson for many is taking place right now. The political
bosses and several aggressive Council members are wheeling and dealing for the
speakership, committee chairs, additional staff and a variety of perks.
The position of speaker is the most prized plum.
The game has been going on for a while. Upper Eastside wiz kid Gifford
Miller started his run when he was elected to the Council six years ago. More than a year
ago, he formed a Political Action Committee to raise money to help support strong
candidates who would likely be elected and remember his help when he ran for speaker. Giff
did a great job of it. He backed an awful lot of winners; made few important enemies and
has been aggressively seeking votes. Sadly for Giff, he comes from Manhattan, has a Dem
County Chair, Denny Farrell, who has never been able to produce significant votes and most
importantly, it seems Giff shares a neighborhood and a "rich white male" label
with the Mayor-elect in a City which seems intent on showing its diversity.
Manhattan uptown Council veterans Bill Perkins and Phil Reed, both
black, are hopeful that their ethnicity will give them a leg up on Giff and their
seniority a leg up on African American newcomers. Also, Miller- backer, openly gay
Christine Quinn presents a better-looking rainbow of diversity. But right now, if it
isnt Miller, you can count votes for Manhattan candidates on one finger.
Dont count Giff out hes got a handful of Manhattan
colleagues behind him, a lot of friends and is liked and respected by most members of the
new Council but he is not the frontrunner in spite of having the earliest start and
he doesnt have the political rabbi that outer borough candidates do.
Queens County Leader Tom Manton, Brooklyn Leader Clarence Norman and
the Bronx Roberto Ramirez come to the table to play. These pros recognize their
access to the new speaker and select committee chairs is vital to patronage and future
power. And so, they toil to insure that their boroughs and their candidates do well.
Just prior to Election Day, Manton dined at Coronas Parkside
restaurant (no relationship to the political consulting firm of Stavisky, Driscoll and
Gianulis) with the fourteen Democratic Council candidates 13 won election. At each
table sat a law partner of the County leader. Mantons law partners Gerry Sweeny,
Mike Reich and Frank Bols are the wheels that keep the Democratic County organization
rolling. Several of the Councilmembers-in-waiting told us that they assumed the dinner was
to discuss the speaker selection, committee chairs, assignments, and Queens strategy. It
didnt happen. It wasnt mentioned.
So what has happened?
Post-Primary, Brooklyns Angel Rodriguez got off to an early lead.
He apparently coralled nine votes in the Brooklyn delegation and Clarence Norman and Tom
Manton were at the table talking of a possible coalition.
Angel is a senior member who will be gone in two years, giving the
newcomers another bite at the speaker apple and therefore met the first criterion. The
Queens gang the largest voting block felt that if it was to be a newcomer,
it should come from their borough. According to several of the Queens class, Manton can be
expected to deliver at least 10 of the Queens delegations votes.
Angel also is Hispanic and added to the rainbow that the City fathers
were said to be seeking.
Tracy Boyland and Al Vann, also from Brooklyn, were not abandoning
their candidacies for speaker strike one against Angel. It also appeared that Angel
had promised several Brooklyn members plum assignments in exchange for their support. If
those plum assignments were not available to Manton to dole out to Team Queens, the deal
would slip away strike two. Angel was unpopular with labor most specifically
Dennis Rivera of 1199, the most powerful Hispanic politico in the City. If he doesnt
fix the labor problem, strike three!
Al Vann has been effective in making the case that his Assembly
experience and leadership in the African American community should qualify him. However,
Team Queens doesnt seem ready to sign onto eight years of him. Also worth watching:
Brooklyn freshman, Bill DiBlasio, Hillary Clintons campaign manager.
Bronx Leader Roberto Ramirez doesnt bring many votes to the table
from his splintered delegation. He alienated Manton by abandoning him in an Albany coup
attempt to overthrow Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, which cost Freddy Ferrer Queens
County support in the mayoral runoff. It seems unlikely that Toms Team Queens is yet
ready to deal with and trust Roberto. Manton will likely look for his coalitions
Former Assemblyman, briefly NYS Attorney General, Ollie Koeppel is a
Bronx newcomer in search of the speakers seat. But without a relationship with
Ramirez or even if he had one, hes going nowhere.
The Republicans will have four members of the Council. Look for Manton
to attempt to include them in his corner as he goes out to help form the new Council.
Also, watch the Queens leader try to convince the small handful of Queens Council members
who may stray that they are better off under his tent.
Southeast Queens black Council members-elect Allan Jennings and James
Sanders won their seats over Mantons choices and have entertained forming a
dissident coalition. Hiram Monserrate, Queens first Latino Council member, is said
to show more allegiance to the Bronx organization than Team Queens. Otherwise, Manton can
expect the support of the delegation members even if they were not his choice in the
election. However, to keep them in line, Manton must deliver. Perks, committee chairs,
staff budgets and power can get a newcomer to break ranks with his County Leader. But
Manton knows the game.
In addition to Katz, from the Queens delegation, David Weprin has his
eye on the big speaker prize. However, insiders whisper that Weprin, former NYS Deputy
Commish of Banking, is really focused on the Finance Committee Chair.
So, were able to sit here, the weekend before the election and
give you all the reasons why all the candidates are not going to be speaker. But somebody
Were not making predictions but do have several observations:
The County delegation that gets the speakership wont get
the influential committee chairs and there are several of those.
If the speaker is a senior member, everyone gets to play again
in two years.
The 36 newcomers really could control the Council if they could
get together it only takes 26 votes.
If Team Queens can get most of the Queens delegation and a
Republican or other small block, they can put it together with Miller or Brooklyn (or even
the Bronx if lightning should strike).
Angel Rodgriguez is fading.
A freshman still unlikely: Al Vann, Melinda Katz, Bill DiBlasio
and we like Brooklyns Lew Fidler, too.
Giff Miller is still a major player.
Then, there is the dark horse with seniority surprises do
I like Mike. No, its not just his name.
Every once in a while, an outsider comes onto the political scene and
demonstrates that politics and government are not brain surgery.
Although Rudy Giuliani served in the Justice Department, Mayor was his
first run for elective office he was a political neophyte.
Betsy Gotbaum and Bill Thompson, both old polical animals, ran for
elective office for the first time.
And Mayor Mike was a virgin. He was new to government and his political
manhood was untouched until he jumped into the mayoral fray.
This writer has confidence in all three of them. This writer has
confidence in the new council with 36 brand new members.
We know and have interviewed the 14 new Queens councilmembers as well
as the three Citywide leaders.
If these guys and gals do what they said theyll do, our
Citys future is very bright indeed.
They must avoid the pitfalls of many who have come before them. They
must avoid ever believing that they are more important or better than the people they
serve. They must avoid the arrogance of ego and the narcotic of power. They must avoid
taking advantage of their offices. They all know it today. We humbly hope they remember it
in the tomorrows to come. We shall remind them.
Above all, at this moment, we turn to Mayor Mike who impressed us with
his commitment to improve our City and the drive and intellect to achieve that goal. You
have run an incredible race and won a well-deserved victory. We are today, totally with
you. Almost all in this great City agree. We wish you well as mayor.
Mike, and neophytes in elective office, go out and make us proud. Make
politics and public service, once again, a profession that we can view with dignity and
respect. Our future is in your hands.
Go get em.