New Year, new faces. Mayor Bill de Blasio will start his final term in January, but his partner at the top of local government, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, will be out of office at the end of the month.
City Council speakers wield immense power over the city budget and legislative process, but they have not fared well in attempts for higher office. They attempt to hone an unruly horde of legislators but are often defined by their relationships with the mayor.
Mark-Viverito has routinely been attacked from the right for her support of closing jail facilities on Rikers Island and other liberal causes. But she has also taken heat from advocates on the left who feel she compromised too much, particularly with the NYPD. Under her leadership, the City Council passed bills — including on zoning and criminal justice issues — that found critics on different sides.
The term-limited legislator was a big supporter of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and might have ended up with a different job had Clinton won. Now, her future is up in the air. She’s rumored to be weighing other elected offices, including a race for mayor or Congress in the Bronx, or a position in her native Puerto Rico.
Before all that begins, though, Mark-Viverito sat down to talk to amNew York about visits to the hurricane-hit island, how much conversation she feels is too much conversation, the council’s role in NYC and her future.
Lessons from the rezoning of part of MMV’s district in East Harlem
MMV: The process that we did, a community-based planning process, is something that really helped, to look at zoning as an option of helping bring additional infrastructure and investment into the community and also get affordable housing. It really was something that I would recommend highly . . . to make it easier and more palatable to communities to understand that a rezoning is not totally a bad thing.
amNY: But even with the outreach there was community opposition.
MMV: You can’t have endless conversations. At some point the conversation and the process has to move forward . . . You’re never gonna find the perfect plan that makes everybody happy. And so in any rezoning there are gonna be people that oppose it. There’s laws we pass everyday where you’re not gonna get everybody on board.
On her relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio
MMV: Any relationship changes over time. I’ve been a good partner with him, we’ve done incredible work on behalf of this city. There have been times where we have some differences of opinion. And I think that the relationship with members is really important for him to be able to move an agenda forward. He has to continue to develop those relationships with members after I leave.
On the council’s independence from the mayor
MMV: There’s a balance. We have a role to play, we play it. We have our hearings, we negotiate the budget. How many vetoes you override is not necessarily the sign of effective leadership. It’s about being able to negotiate, being able to move a conversation forward . . . When you have a difference of opinion you can do it in a way that’s not adversarial.
On her technology use at work
MMV: I have an iPad. Which is challenging because sometimes I like to be in front of a computer. I don’t have much time to be in front of a computer.
amNY: So mostly you’re on an iPad?
MMV: And my phone. Email, texting. Looking at Twitter.
amNY: You tweet yourself?
MMV: Yeah. And that’s the way I get a lot of information. Like what’s the latest, what’s going on?
On Puerto Rico
MMV: The lack of attention to Puerto Rico is definitely indicative of this colonial relationship . . . The fact that we’re still having a conversation that there’s not enough money being allocated to Puerto Rico dealing with this disaster and that the tax plan is going to economically compromise the island further, indicates that there’s no concern, no sense of urgency, no interest in paying attention.
On her mother in Puerto Rico
MMV: She’s a trooper, chugging along. She does not have electricity, she does have a power [generator], but she doesn’t run it 24 hours a day obviously. So she has to be selective and figure out when she’s gonna use it . . . But it’s a new lifestyle and she’s not a young — she’s 70, she’s in good shape — but it’s a whole new way of life for her.
amNY: Was there any discussion of your mother coming here?
MMV: She knows she has that. She says she’s not looking to do that, she’s gonna stick it out. People get set in their ways . . . And look compared to other people, she feels that she’s somewhat lucky.
On post-council plans
MMV: Obviously, I’m thinking about the New Year being with my mother. So it may be Puerto Rico, my brother and I are discussing whether we ask her to come be with us. But most immediately, take a couple of weeks and just decompress and not have to be figuring out what legislation we’re gonna pass.
(This interview has been edited and condensed. Emphasis added by the interviewer.)