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City Council votes Corey Johnson into speaker role

The new speaker differs from his predecessor in a major way: He is expected to push back against the mayor.

Corey Johnson is the City Council's newest speaker.

Corey Johnson is the City Council's newest speaker. Photo Credit: William Alatriste

Call it a Coreynation: Corey Johnson, of Chelsea, was elected speaker of the City Council, picked by a vote of his peers Wednesday to lead the chamber on a promise to stand up to the mayor.

The 35-year-old Democrat said he wants the city to contribute more money to the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority — but only with “accountability” by the city, which now has little control over the subways and buses. And he backs a mass-transit-funding congestion-pricing plan to toll the East River bridges, charge motorists to enter central Manhattan and reduce most other tolls — but he said he is “not looking to ram something through” that some outerborough lawmakers oppose.

With his mother in the council chamber, Johnson became the fifth speaker since the post was created more than a quarter-century ago in a U.S. Supreme Court-ordered reorganization of city government.

In the second most powerful elected post in municipal government, Johnson will control the flow of council legislation, negotiate the city’s budget — about $86 billion last year — and largely decide how much money each district receives.

Johnson, a native of Massachusetts, is gay, part Asian, and open about being HIV-positive and about his past struggles with alcohol, drugs and suicidal thoughts. He’s trying to quit cigarettes.

Johnson promised a “strong” and “independent” council — stressing the word “independent” as a hat tip to his vow to push back against the mayor.

Johnson is expected to pose more of a challenge to fellow Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio than his predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito of East Harlem, whom de Blasio helped pick. In her four years, no legislation came to a floor vote unless it was assured passage.

One issue Johnson supports that the mayor and some council members don’t is congestion pricing.

“It’s important that we disincentivize cars from coming into Manhattan, to the central business district below 96th Street,” he said, affirming support for the Move New York congestion-pricing plan, put forward by traffic experts and urbanists.

Having never owned a car, Johnson said, he plans to continue taking the subway as often as possible.

“It’s good people-watching,” he said. “I actually like the subway, when it works.”

In a floor speech, Johnson lamented that working-class New Yorkers were being priced out of the city, mom-and-pop businesses were struggling against “deep-pocketed” chain stores, and subway riders “are experiencing the consequences of years of disinvestment of our infrastructure.”

Wednesday’s vote was all but a formality: Democratic party bosses, especially in Queens and the Bronx, decided last month to pick Johnson and helped whip up enough the votes.

The vote was 48 to 1. Council members Debi Rose of Staten Island and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn were absent.

Councilwoman Inez Barron (D-Brooklyn) staged a last-minute protest candidacy Wednesday and in a floor speech assailed “racist” fellow Democrats who have “conspired to prevent a black person from becoming speaker.” She voted against Johnson, and for herself.


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