With primaries in rear-view mirror, City Council Speaker’s race coming into focus

New York City mayoral primary election
General view of New York City Hall, during the New York City primary mayoral election, in New York City, U.S., June 22, 2021. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The shadow race among City Council members and political power brokers has begun to replace term-limited City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan). 

Colleagues in the incoming council will pick the speaker, who must garner at least 26 of the 51 members. The speaker plays a crucial role in legislative matters in that they set the agenda and preside over all meetings of the full City Council. Additionally, all legislation is submitted through the Speaker’s office. In other words, proposed legislation will never see the light of day if the Speaker doesn’t allow it to go before the full council for a vote.

The three names being mentioned most to replace Johnson in no particular order are City Council Members Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan), Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn) and Adrienne Adams (D-Queens).

Other names being mentioned are City Council Member Keith Powers (D-Manhattan) and Tiffany Cabán (D-Queens), who won the 22nd Council primary and is expected to win election in November.

Council Member Carlina Rivera Attends Census March on Wednesday. (Photo Credit: Jeff Reed for New York City Council)
Council Member Carlina Rivera Attends Census March on Wednesday. (Photo Credit: Jeff Reed for New York City Council)

Rivera easily won her re-election primary against Erin Hussein in the Council’s 2nd District representing Manhattan’s East Village, Gramercy Park, Kips Bay, Lower East Side, Murray Hill and Rose Hill. 

Her name is the most often bandied about in becoming the next speaker. With women potentially occupying 29 of the 51 City Council seats come January, there may be a strong push to have a woman speaker.

More to the progressive side of politics, Rivera, who could not be reached at press time, did not endorse anybody for citywide seats but did endorse Democratic Socilaist of America candidates Cabán in Queens and Jennifer Gutiérrez in Brooklyn.

This may work against Rivera, however, as the Council remains politically moderate on the whole — despite some progressive gains. 

City Councilman Justin Brannan

This plays well into the hand of Brannan, a moderate Democrat representing Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge, who supported Democratic nominee and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for mayor.

Brannan has been tweeting a plenty since the primary congratulating just about every City Council candidate who won their primary. He recently told Gotham Gazette he sees the speaker role more as a manager of a baseball team and not the star player.

“You need to wake up every day thinking how can I make sure everyone has what they need to deliver for their districts. Above all, it’s your job to support the members so they shine and succeed,” he told the outlet.

The incumbent Brannan still faces a fight for re-election in November against a Republican candidate, Brian Fox, in one of the few competitive City Council districts in the Five Boroughs.

Adrienne Adams

Adrienne Adams is also positioned well for becoming the next Speaker. She represents Jamaica, Queens, and like Brannan, supported Eric Adams for mayor. Queens Democratic County Leader Congressman Gregory Meeks had supported Ray McGuire for mayor. 

While history has it that the Queens Democratic Party chair holds a lot of sway in the speaker’s race, two of Meeks’ rivals – Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and State Sen. James Sanders (D-Queens) also supported Eric Adams for mayor.

Eric Adams grew up in Queens and graduated from Bayside High School. Supporting Adrienne Adams would broaden his outer borough base away from Brooklyn, while weakening both Meeks and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn, Queens), who endorsed Maya Wiley for mayor.

“Come January 2022, there will be a brand new City Council with a presumably majority of women! The prospect of becoming the Council’s FIRST African American Speaker is encouraging,” said Adrienne Adams in an emailed statement.

“As an experienced member who leads the Public Safety Committee, co-chairs the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus, has passed dozens of pieces of legislation, and negotiated four Executive budgets, I believe I have the governing experience and leadership skills necessary to lead this diverse legislative body and balance the different interests and needs of every district,” she added.

Bill Parry contributed to this story.

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