Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito at her victory party on Election Night

Councilwoman enters leadership race

Mott Haven Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito cruised to re-election on Nov. 5 and immediately announced that she wants one of the most powerful jobs in city government – City Council Speaker.

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito at her victory party on Election Night
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito at her victory party on Election Night

After big win for ‘progressives,’ Mark-Viverito declares

Mott Haven Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito cruised to re-election on Nov. 5 and immediately announced that she wants one of the most powerful jobs in city government – City Council Speaker.

A Manhattan Democrat who picked up most of Mott Haven and part of Highbridge in this year’s redistricting, Mark-Viverito threw her hat in the ring during a victory party at the Poets Den Gallery and Theater in East Harlem after she took 94 percent of the vote in her district.

“I am going to continue to campaign until January because I am looking to be the next speaker of the city council,” Mark-Viverito told a small crowd of backers, who erupted in applause. “I welcome your support, although it’s my 50 other colleagues whose support I need to elect me.”

The speaker will be selected by the council’s 51 members in January; 28 of them are newly elected. Mark-Viverito, an ally of Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, will likely seek support in the large bloc of progressive members who swept into office with de Blasio.

Although the council vote is what counts in the end, the selection of the speaker has historically been heavily influenced by the leaders of the county Democratic organizations. Bronx Democratic Chairman Carl Heastie, an assemblyman from the northeast Bronx, was at the annual gathering of politicians in Puerto Rico and not available for comment.

“This will probably get decided at the last minute,” said Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “There will be a lot of vote bargaining that’s going to go on between now and then.”

Mark-Viverito, who was the first councilmember to endorse de Blasio, described her relationship with Heastie as “good–a work-in-progress”.

“Now that I have more of the Bronx, it’s a true partnership that we are establishing,” said Viverito, who won close to 14,000 votes compared to her Republican opponent’s 750.  She said the party organization’s interest and city’s interest are identical, adding, “I’m excited about the process.

The councilwoman said she was committed to opening a “full-functioning” second office in the Bronx to serve Mott Haven and Highbridge, which make up half her new district. The other half is in her old district in East Harlem.

“Both areas face challenges with housing, quality education; the two areas are total similarities,” said Mark-Viverito.

Flenoy Withers III, a local activist who voted for Mark-Viverito at the Mott Haven Community Center on East 143th Street, said the first thing that came to his mind about her was her Participatory Budget program.

The program gives community residents a direct say in how some public money is spent in their neighborhood. The program is expected to spread next year because several of the new incoming council members say they will employ it in their districts.

However, other local residents interviewed the day after the election said they don’t know much about Mark-Viverito and echoed a common sentiment that it doesn’t matter who represents them because nothing ever changes.

“I didn’t bother to vote because I don’t really care,” said Samantha Acevado, 18, who lives in the Patterson Houses. “Nothing ever gets fixed around here.”

Anna Tores, 40, of the Millbrook Houses, said she had heard good things about Mark-Viverito but still decided not to vote this year.

“I don’t think the politicians are doing what they need to do,” Tores said. “They need to work more in the Bronx.”

Tenille Washington, who works for a non-profit agency in East Harlem, said she was familiar with how supportive Mark-Viverito was of programs like hers and was excited about the councilwoman representing the Mott Haven district where her mother lives.

Lord Franklin, 28, who lives in the Moore Houses, said he welcomed new representation for the neighborhood even though he had never heard of Mark-Viverito.

“It seems to me though that anybody who’s new to the district tends to get some things done, like they’ve got something to prove,” Franklin said.

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