Campaign Confidential

The 2021 New York City Council speaker contenders

What you need to know about all the likely candidates.

Left to right: Keith Powers, Carlina Rivera, Adrienne Adams and Diana Ayala

Left to right: Keith Powers, Carlina Rivera, Adrienne Adams and Diana Ayala John McCarten/New York City Council; William Alatriste/New York City Council; Gerardo Romo/New York City Council; John McCarten/New York City Council

There’s a sense this year, among incoming New York City Council members and the political class that surround them, that this year’s speaker race will be more diffuse, more member-driven than usual. It’s a departure from 2017, where it was commonly joked that Joe Crowley, then the Queens County Democratic Party chair, would pick the speaker – and he basically did with Corey Johnson. And in 2013, incoming Mayor Bill de Blasio wrangled votes to select Melissa Mark-Viverito. Now in 2021, county parties are weaker than ever. And the likely next mayor, Eric Adams, has claimed, however dubiously, that he won’t get too involved in the race.

But this essentially internal process, which will culminate with a vote by all 51 members of the new City Council in the first week of January, still captivates political observers who want to know who will ascend to the second-most powerful position in city government. The current speaker, Johnson, will be term-limited out of office at the end of the year. 

A few candidates whose names had been in the mix have dropped off. City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel lost her reelection bid. Democratic socialist Tiffany Caban said she’s not running. And Chares Barron, who challenged then-Speaker Christine Quinn in 2009 and whose wife Inez mounted a last-minute bid in 2017, said he probably won’t jump in either. 

But seven or so members do look like they’re running, and have been making their case to colleagues. Learn a little bit about each of them, and their chances.

ADRIENNE ADAMS

Age: 60

Home: Jamaica, Queens

Identity: Black woman

2021 mayoral endorsement: Eric Adams

Is she actually running? “I don’t think it’s any secret that I am running for speaker.”

Why she’ll win: Many want to see a woman as speaker, and Adams could be the first Black speaker. She’s tight with Queens Democratic Party boss Rep. Gregory Meeks, and her focus on crime aligns well with Eric Adams’ vision.

Why she won’t: Can the speaker and mayor really have the same last name? Also, outer borough candidates are always at a disadvantage, and even though Adams has been in the mix, she hasn’t been networking as aggressively as some other contenders.

DIANA AYALA

Age: 48

Home: East Harlem, Manhattan

Identity: Latina woman

2021 mayoral endorsement: Scott Stringer, then Eric Adams

Is she actually running? “I am.”

Why she’ll win: Ayala is a somewhat more moderate alternative to Carlina Rivera’s candidacy. Many would love to see a Latina picked, and she’s close to former speaker Mark-Viverito and power broker Rep. Adriano Espaillat.

Why she won’t: She’s a late entrant who hasn’t been laying the groundwork, and her 2019 agreement to place a new jail in her district disappointed some stakeholders and made other members question her deal-making.

JUSTIN BRANNAN

Age: 42

Home: Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Identity: White man

2021 mayoral endorsement: Eric Adams

Is he actually running? Yes, and he has been for years.

Why he’ll win: Nobody has been working harder to court future members and outside players than Brannan. That strategy hasn’t gone unnoticed, and the former hardcore guitarist-turned-banker has a way of making everyone feel like they’ll be heard.

Why he won’t: Brooklynites already will have the other three citywide roles, and there’s a hesitancy to elevate another straight white guy.

GALE BREWER

Age: 70

Home: Upper West Side, Manhattan

Identity: White woman

2021 mayoral endorsement: None

Is she actually running? “I’ll probably run.”

Why she’ll win:Everybody loves Gale. She’s the most experienced candidate by far who already served 12 years on the council and would hit the ground running.

Why she won’t: Brewer would break the mold. She’s back for a second go-round, and would be eligible to serve for eight years, when many members would prefer to see a four-year speaker. She hasn’t been working her colleagues and hasn’t even decided to run yet.

FRANCISCO MOYA

Age: 47

Home: Corona, Queens

Identity: Latino man

2021 mayoral endorsement: Eric Adams

Is he actually running? “I’m all in. That’s on the record.”

Why he’ll win: Moya is an Adams-allied, union-friendly Latino legislator that could be a compromise candidate if the leading candidates prove to be too controversial.

Why he won’t: Moya kept his speaker ambitions pretty quiet and didn’t do much to help other colleagues in 2021. He’s not the most popular member in a race that’s, in part, a popularity contest.

KEITH POWERS

Age: 37

Home: StuyTown, Manhattan

Identity: White man

2021 mayoral endorsement: None

Is he actually running? Yes, and he has been for years.

Why he’ll win: It always helps to be from Manhattan, and Powers has been touring the city helping colleagues get elected. Now he’ll ask for their vote as a compromise candidate.

Why he won’t: He’s a straight white guy who used to be a lobbyist.

CARLINA RIVERA

Age: 37

Home: Alphabet City, Manhattan

Identity: Latina woman

2021 mayoral endorsement: None

Is she actually running? Yes, and she has been for years.

Why she’ll win: There’s a large, incoming progressive bloc that could look to Rivera as a counterweight to the more moderate mayor. Many members would love to see a Latina in power, and Rivera has been working courting colleagues and allies for years.

Why she won’t: Some members think she’s too progressive and worry she’d be a roadblock to Eric Adams.

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