An intriguing three-way fight for leadership of the Brooklyn Council delegation has turned into an opening shot in the brewing battle for Council speaker in 2014, according to two Council sources involved in the situation.
Recently, Council members Letitia James and Erik Martin Dilan stepped down as co-chairs of the Brooklyn delegation, which are charged with negotiating the budget on behalf of the borough. New delegation chairs are expected to be elected in the next couple weeks.
Running for the two co-chair spots are three candidates: Councilman David Greenfield, Councilman Jumaane Williams and Councilwoman Darlene Mealy.
Traditionally, the two spots have been divvied up to different ethnic groups – so Greenfield, as the only white candidate, would theoretically have a good shot at landing one.
But the battle for the remaining spot, between Williams and Mealy, both African-Americans, may be turning into a fight between the Council’s 12-person Progressive Caucus and the Brooklyn Democratic establishment, and by extension, a fight to succeed Christine Quinn as speaker of the Council. That contest, not slated until 2014, is likely to go down between Manhattan Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, and Manhattan Councilwoman Inez Dickens, seen as the establishment candidate. Queens Councilman Mark Weprin is also a potential speaker candidate.
“The factor that’s underlying the candidacy of Jumaane Williams is the relationship it has to gaining a foothold in advance of 2013 for Melissa Mark-Viverito,” said one Council source.
On paper, the Brooklyn battle would seem to favor Mealy, who is seen as the establishment candidate. Still, after some recent internal political losses, Williams and the Progressive Caucus are continuing to fight.
Mark-Viverito recently decided not to run for re-election as co-vice chair of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian caucus, after it became clear that the establishment pick, Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez, had more support. In addition, Williams had to back off a challenge last year, in which he wanted to challenge caucus co-chair and Manhattan Councilman Robert Jackson.
And that appears to have raised the stakes in the Brooklyn fight.
The Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus has 27 members – enough to itself have a majority to elect a speaker. But insiders say the end result of the rift between progressives and the establishment (or, between Mark-Viverito and Dickens) could be to allow a non-minority candidate, like Weprin, to take the speakership.
Meanwhile, the Working Families Party is trying to grow the 12-member Progressive Caucus – which itself could become a key player in choosing the next speaker.
Even further complicating the situation, I’m told that Williams has yet to say whether he will support former Assemblyman Frank Seddio, or his opponent, Mercedes Narcisse, in the prospective race for Councilman Lew Fidler’s seat – which could also play into whether certain Council members would support Williams.
Seddio will almost certainly be backed by Brooklyn Democratic Leader Vito Lopez, while Narcisse may have the support of more progressive Council members. Seddio is aggressively lining up endorsements for the race.
Here’s a statement from Williams, which states that Williams is not officially running for the co-chair position yet:
“Council Member Williams has been nominated by some of his colleagues to chair the Brooklyn delegation, but he has yet to accept the nomination,” said a spokesman.
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