Campaign Confidential

NYC Council speaker candidates say enough forums

In a letter signed by almost all the contenders, speaker hopefuls said they would participate in only two more panels before votes are cast.

Screenshot from the Working Families Party speaker's forum.

Screenshot from the Working Families Party speaker's forum. Jeff Coltin

Want to hear from the candidates vying for the second-most powerful position in New York City government? Your options just got a bit more limited. The City Council speaker candidates have coordinated among themselves to only attend just two more forums for the next month – a decision that led to the cancellation of at least two other forums that had been planned for this week. 

Six speaker candidates – all except Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer – shared a statement exclusively with City & State on Wednesday saying they didn’t have time in their schedules for more.

“We deeply appreciate all the organizations that are convening forums to engage speaker candidates on the many issues impacting our city,” reads the email signed by Council Members Adrienne Adams, Diana Ayala, Justin Brannan, Francisco Moya, Keith Powers and Carlina Rivera. “As much as we would like to participate in all forums, our schedules are overwhelmed with Council responsibilities to both our respective district(s) and the city as a whole as well as with meeting with the incoming members and others about priorities to get NYC back on its feet. It's why, as a group, we have agreed to participate in two upcoming forums that provide an opportunity to speak to incoming members and the public about the important issues facing our city. We look forward to our collective and continued work for the betterment of our city in these unprecedented times.”

The two forums the group agreed to are on Thursday afternoon at City & State’s Council Members Retreat, where they’ll speak to an audience of their colleagues, and a televised NY1 forum on Thursday, Dec. 9 at 7 p.m., on "Inside City Hall."

Of course, this was unwelcome news to Common Cause’s Susan Lerner, one of the organizers of a planned Transparency and Transportation forum on Tuesday that had to be canceled because only Rivera and Brewer said they’d show up – while the others weren’t straightforward about why they couldn’t attend. So in a statement, Lerner blasted the rest of them for “a lack of honesty and transparency about no-shows and cancellations.” She said 200 people had signed up to watch the forum. A planned Thursday morning forum organized by the New York State Association for Affordable Housing, or NYSAFAH, has been canceled as well. A Wednesday evening forum hosted by Voters for Animal Rights was still in limbo as of Wednesday afternoon, and organizers said the candidates weren’t clearly communicating. 

The six speaker candidates who are currently in office met in the members lounge in City Hall last Tuesday when they were there for a stated meeting and talked about limiting forums. “It snowballed from that conversation,” one of them said, who asked for anonymity to discuss private conversations. They later met on Zoom – this time including Brewer. “We wanted to get consensus,” the candidate said. Brewer told City & State she didn’t sign the letter because it mentioned the council, and “I’m not a council member” until Jan. 1. However, “I support the concept. I’ll go along with the program,” of only going to two more events.

Candidates have already participated in multiple forums: one on immigrant issues hosted by the New York Immigration Coalition and allies, one hosted by the Working Families Party and other progressive allies, one on open space hosted by New Yorkers for Parks, among others, and one for female candidates only hosted by NOW-NYC, Eleanor’s Legacy and the United Federation of Teachers. The New York City Employment & Training Coalition has also been hosting a series of public virtual conversations with each of the candidates. The pace of forums paled in comparison to the Democratic mayoral primary earlier this year, where candidates were sometimes participating in multiple forums each night (which was a cause of consternation for the candidates).

Speaker candidates limiting attendance at forums isn’t unprecedented. In fact, the same thing was attempted four years ago, during the last speaker race, with limited success. Still, the reaction to the Tuesday forum being canceled was mostly negative on Twitter, garnering a series of “oof”s and “lol what”s. Political consultant Monica Klein questioned whether the candidates should be organizing around other things. “New Yorkers are facing a deadly pandemic, rising rents and unaffordable health care – but apparently the true crisis our city leaders must unite against is one more public forum.”

But political consultant Chris Coffey, who worked on Corey Johnson’s speaker race in 2017 and Andrew Yang’s mayoral race in 2021, took up the contenders’ cause. “As with the Mayors race, doing multiple forums a week (a day?) is unrealistic,” he tweeted. “Job of running for speaker is talking member to member, member to union, member to mayor etc. That’s where the votes are - not at these well meaninged forums.”