The New York City Council is back in full swing, and members of the new 51-member class received committee assignments and leadership roles on Thursday.
Assignments to the Council’s roughly three dozen committees are mostly under the purview of the City Council speaker. Some of the assignments were known before being officially announced, with top positions going to members who backed Council Member Adrienne Adams in her successful bid for City Council speaker over Francisco Moya late last year. Council Member Justin Brannan, a former speaker candidate who dropped his speaker bid to back Adams, will chair the finance committee, and returning Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr., who did not run for speaker, will continue to chair the land use committee – two of the more powerful committees in the body. Out of some of other the speaker contenders, Keith Powers – already appointed majority leader – will also chair the rules committee, while Diana Ayala will chair the Committee on General Welfare.
For people reading the tea leaves, the council’s new committee assignments shed some light on how Speaker Adrienne Adams is divvying up power among the ideologically diverse council. Council members and political observers have wondered how closely Adams, a moderate Democrat, will align with or push back against Mayor Eric Adams, also a moderate, who did not initially support her in the speaker race. Top committee positions went predictably to supporters, and on contested issues like public safety, Adams didn’t rock the boat by handing leadership roles to more progressive Democrats.
The Committee on Public Safety, which has oversight of the New York City Police Department, will be chaired by Council Member Kamillah Hanks, a Staten Island Democrat who appears likely to align with both Adamses on a mission of calling for police reform without defunding the department. “We need to build a police force that is respectful and accountable while still allowing the police to do their jobs,” Hanks told the Staten Island Advance last year. “We need to build NYPD relationships within our communities through more community policing.”
Moderate wins for progressives
More progressive members did get some wins, and Adrienne Adams in at least one instance pushed back on an ask from the mayor’s team. Democratic Council Member Gale Brewer – who is technically a new member this session despite previously serving in the council – was appointed to chair the oversight and investigations committee, a post that the mayor’s team had reportedly pushed for new Council Member Julie Menin to get.
Speaker Adams said it was not inappropriate for the mayor to be getting involved. “The mayor is one of the stakeholders involved in this process, as are many stakeholders involved in this process,” she said at a press conference Thursday. “But the bottom line is that it was still our decision who is appointed to these committees. It is our decision, and the buck stops here.”
Democratic Council Member Carlina Rivera, who also ran for speaker before announcing that she was dropping out to support Adams several hours before Adams declared victory, was appointed to chair the Committee on Criminal Justice, which has oversight of the Department of Correction. This committee is where the question of banning solitary confinement is likely to resurface this year – an issue that has already divided the new mayor and members of the council. Rivera listed ending solitary confinement among her priorities in a statement on Thursday.
Tiffany Cabán, a former public defender whose district includes Rikers Island and who has frequently spoken out about the crisis at the jails complex, was noticeably left off of that committee. “I really dont think it matters whether Tiffany Cabán is on any of those committees,” Democratic political consultant Camille Rivera said when asked about Cabán’s absence from the criminal justice committee, noting that Cabán will continue to be a strong voice on those issues, whether or not she has a seat on the committee. “Jumaane Williams was shut out of committees, and now he’s public advocate,” Rivera added.
Cabán was assigned to chair the Committee on Women and Gender Equity. “Especially as the first ever majority-woman council gets underway, I look forward to working with my colleagues to use this position to provide support to survivors of gender-based violence, guarantee dignified conditions for workers in traditionally-gendered professions, and shift resources and power away from patriarchal systems of violence and punishment,” Cabán said in a statement.
Council Member Sandy Nurse will chair the sanitation committee, Jennifer Gutiérrez will chair the technology committee, Shahana Hanif will chair the immigration committee and Alexa Avilés will chair the public housing committee. Pierina Sanchez will chair the Committee on Housing and Buildings, which has jurisdiction over rent regulations.
Shekar Krishnan will chair the parks committee, and said that equitable access to parks will be a priority. “Jackson Heights has some of the least amount of park space in New York City,” Krishnan told City & State. “I see this as an issue of social justice – to make sure that communities like mine, immigrant neighborhoods, low-income communities of color have access to green and open space.”
Only so many committees to go around
Not everyone received a chair position. Republican Council Members Joe Borelli, Vickie Paladino, David Carr and Inna Vernikov did not get any committee leadership. Democratic Council Members Charles Barron and Kristin Richardson Jordan – the only two members to vote against Adrienne Adams for speaker – did not receive chair roles. Democratic Council Members Erik Bottcher and Christopher Marte also did not get chair roles. Marte endorsed Moya for speaker, and though Bottcher didn’t publicly announce his support for a speaker candidate, he was not on the list of supporters Adams released when announcing her victory. Still, many other Moya supporters received leadership roles on Thursday.
Democratic Council Member Lincoln Restler, who was among Adams’ original supporters, also did not get a chair role. “From day one, I've focused on being on the ground on the 33rd and I'm going to take this opportunity to spend time in my district and deliver for our constituents,” Restler said in a statement to City & State.
Some lasting tensions from the heated race for City Council speaker likely had a bearing on who got the assignments they wanted on Thursday and who was left empty handed. Adrienne Adams denied, however, that bad feelings left over from the speaker race seeped into committee assignments. “Look, this is a membership of 51 members and there just are not enough committees to support 51 members,” she said Thursday. Still, there may be other opportunities for members to have leadership roles outside of committees down the line, including as members of task forces or the council’s Budget Negotiating Team.
Moya, who was Adrienne Adams’ final foe in the speaker race, didn’t walk away with high-profile committee leadership roles like some of the other speaker contenders, but he also doesn’t come home totally empty handed. Moya will chair a subcommittee on COVID-19 recovery and resilience.
Democrat Kalman Yeger, an independent voice who proudly says he voted against more bills than anyone in the last four years, including the Republicans, will chair the Committee on Standards and Ethics. Yeger himself has been disciplined by the Council, though not by the committee he now chairs. In 2019, Yeger was kicked off of the immigration committee following backlash over a tweet in which he said that “Palestine does not exist.”
Other committee assignments will give new council members a chance to flex expertise they honed in their lives pre-politics. “I’ve been an educator for 20 years, so I know education inside out with my eyes closed,” said Democratic Council Member Rita Joseph, a former teacher who was appointed to chair the education committee. Joseph said she is eager to work with Council Member Eric Dinowitz – chair of the higher education committee – and will push for a bill from last session limiting class sizes in New York City schools. “I’ve taught in classes where there were 35 students sitting in front of me. No matter how brilliant I am, somebody’s going to get lost in the crowd,” Joseph told City & State on Thursday.
New Democratic Council Member Mercedes Narcisse, who has worked as an emergency room nurse and in health care, will chair the hospitals committee. Narcisse told City & State that one priority will be pushing for a community health center in or nearby every public housing development.
Despite the council’s vast Democratic majority, not all Republican members were shut out of committee chair roles on Thursday. New Republican Council Member Joann Ariola will lead the Committee on Fire and Emergency Management – a committee previously chaired by Republican Joe Borelli.
With additional reporting by Jeff Coltin.