September 25, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – After a combined 20 years of Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg, hard-pressed working men and women and their advocates throughout the city are eager to see who’ll be next to grab the keys to Gracie Mansion in November. But they're also keeping a close watch on who ultimately picks up the Speaker’s gavel a couple of months later in January. (Watch Video)
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, representing the Bronx and Manhattan’s 8th District and co-chair of the increasingly influential Progressive Caucus, says that the city’s middle class is “eroding” and is among the top candidates jockeying to change things as successor to [previously] powerhouse New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
The former strategic organizer for 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Worker’s East, was first elected in 2005, and is now on her way to a third and final term after handily beating a crowded field of six in the Democratic Primary held earlier this month. She was an early supporter of Democratic mayoral pick Bill de Blasio, and could potentially be in an especially prime position to be the next Speaker should the former Brooklyn councilman and current public advocate prevail in the general election.
Councilwoman Mark-Viverito is already anticipating working with de Blasio as mayor in advancing a legislative agenda that addresses “a city that is becoming almost unbearable to the working class families that live here.”
“I really want a partner in government as mayor who’s going to have the same vision so that we can help everyone move ahead,” Councilwoman Mark-Viverito recently told LaborPress.
But the mayor, whoever that ultimately turns out to be, won’t be the only fresh face to grace City Hall this fall. Come November, over 20 City Council seats will be up for grabs, and Councilwoman Mark-Viverito’s Progressive Caucus could see its ranks almost double as a result.
“This is going to be a very aggressive and very involved City Council,” Councilwoman Mark-Viverito promised. “As a member of the Progressive Caucus – which at this moment is 11[members]-strong, and also a member of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, and seeing this change in the City Council that is truly reflective of the diversity of New York City – we’re working actively to ensure that in some of those open seats that we’re bringing in voices that are similar. There’s a lot of potential.”
Of all the pressing concerns facing her blue collar constituents, Councilwoman Mark-Viverito says that the lack of housing continues to be paramount.
“Some of the affordable housing that is being built is really not affordable at a local neighborhood level,” Councilwoman Mark-Viverito said. “We really need to have a partner in the mayoralty. And I’ve endorsed Bill de Blasio because he has a very thorough and robust plan on how we make housing subsidies in this city also address the needs of local neighborhoods.”
Anyone who works for a living in New York City knows only too well that when it comes to new housing developments, “affordable” has, indeed, lost all meaning.
“A lot of times, we are stuck with the average median income, which at the federal level incorporates Connecticut and other areas,” Councilwoman Mark-Viverito said. “And then when you look at the neighborhood needs, there’s a real disconnect. In my neighborhood, where the average income could be $20,000 to $25,000 a year, you’ve got to have housing built that’s going to be affordable to those constituents.”
Councilwoman Mark-Viverito also says she has been inspired by the fast food workers’ nationwide drive to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“Why should it be about the corporations and the big developers being able to pocket the money and walk away and create low-wage jobs?” the councilwoman said. “The best investment is when we provide solid-wage jobs that are going to put money in the pockets of families that they can then reinvest in our local neighborhood economies.”
According to the woman that could conceivably become the New York City Council’s next Speaker, efforts to level a playing field that’s currently tipped in favor of the wealthy, need to start even much earlier than that.
“We have a lot of children in this city who don’t get early childhood education, and that’s a problem,” Councilwoman Mark-Viverito said. “And so, we need for every single child that is eligible, and has a need, to be able to have access to early childhood education. That’s something that’s really critical as a way of trying to break down that educational achievement gap that exists and impacts primarily poor students and Latino and African-American students.”