After 100 days, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito only getting started
While most citywide elected leaders celebrated their 100 days in office last week, City Hall’s second-most powerful voice marks hers a little later than everybody else.
Melissa Mark-Viverito was voted in as the City Council’s latest steward on Jan. 8. Since then, she’s helped usher in a paid-sick law bill that the new administration staked as essential to a new progressive vision under Mayor Bill de Blasio. And in the face of the yearly budget talks and a devastating explosion in her own district that claimed the lives of eight of her constituents, Mark-Viverito remains focused on the challenges ahead of her — including some internal housekeeping.
The mayor often touts his win last fall as a mandate for an administration focused on eliminating economic and social injustice — a mission which Mark-Viverito and many of her Council colleagues also firmly believe in. The same 51-member legislative body voted her into leadership with a mandate for transparency and engagement from within the Council.
The last time the City Council underwent a similar process, it turned around a package of rules reform within a month’s time. Asked if she was comfortable with the pace with which her Council is deliberating over its own rules, she said “completely.”
“We’re trying to allow for debate,” she added, justifying the time frame as one that allows for engagement both within and outside City Hall. “I’m not interested in this happening in a 30-day window.”
Mark-Viverito said that the committee tasked with the changes, which would help determine how Council members introduce bills or spend tax-payer money, is ongoing. The Gotham Gazette reported in late March that members were given a survey on how it should divvy the Council’s pot of money.
Exactly how much money is in that pot won’t be known until the Council and mayor’s office settle this year’s budget.
Previous budget negotiations have usually resulted in a fight over line items for firehouses, libraries and early education that the mayor would cut and the Council would restore.
Observers say that’s likely to change when with the friendly relationship and political alignment between Mayor de Blasio and the Council under Mark-Viverito.
“It’s great, obviously, to be in a situation where we are more philosophically aligned, and the mayor sees the importance of initiatives we have historically funded,” the speaker said.
Mark-Viverito added that the Council was submitting their response to the mayor’s preliminary $74 billion budget next week, which the administration will need to reconcile with the Council before July 1.
While talks about budget and internal reform are ongoing, Mark-Viverito’s Council continues press on issues important to the wave of progressive leadership at City Hall, including those that the previous Council already worked on.
Earlier reports around the retooled and recently enacted paid sick leave law alleged that many of the Council members were caught unaware of the announcement to introduce a stronger version of the law.
Nonetheless, Mark-Viverito said she knew some of her peers wanted to bring it back to include constituents that were excluded in its previous incarnation before the mayor expressed interest in reintroducing the bill.
“There were many of us who wanted to move that legislation as soon as possible,” she said.
While declining to be specific, Mark-Viverito added that there would likely be more bills and issues that the previous Council dealt with that the new crop of lawmakers would seek to redress with the de Blasio administration.
But there are bills that the Council also plans to tackle head on for the first time, including a de Blasio-backed proposal to create municipal IDs that New York City’s immigrant community would be able to access regardless of residency status.
She called the proposal “truly important” and that she wants to see it done before the year’s end.
“It’ll be the largest [municipal] ID program in the country,” she said. “We’d be setting a tone and forging a path.”
Mark-Viverito’s Council has already sent five bills to the Mayor’s desk, including securing human rights protections for unpaid interns, carbon monoxide detectors in public spaces and health insurance coverage for surviving family of Department of Environmental Protection employees.
Council members have also held a number of oversight meetings on issues such as public housing, Sandy recovery and the city’s plan to eliminate traffic-related deaths. Mark-Viverito added that members will soon have 10 bills related Vision Zero ready for debate.
“We’ve done some great work in a short period of time,” she said. “We’re laying the groundwork on our priorities and how we want to approach it.”
Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter @chestersoria