Mark-Viverito Goes down in Failure and Embarrassment; Latest Twist in Speaker Race

Following Melissa Mark-Viverito’s blistering defeat over the lionization of her idol Oscar Lopez Rivera, she has decided not to have the customary press conference before today’s stated meeting of the Council. Unwilling to face the music in front of the media after her bizarre crusade fizzled out, MMV will glumly sulk behind the curtains, nursing fantasies of right-wing persecution.

It is amazing that MMV was so far adrift from the mainstream of even New York City liberal sentiment that she thought celebrating someone who actually bombed New York City and killed people was a good idea. She parsed words and tried to pretend that because Rivera was convicted of conspiracy charges, that meant he was some kind of thought criminal or political prisoner--but no one bought that feeble argument. Everyone has watched enough crime TV to understand how conspiracy charges work, and the Osama bin Laden parallel was stark enough: OBL also technically didn’t “kill anyone.”

As I predicted several weeks ago, Bill de Blasio intervened to prevent this suicidal car wreck of political malpractice from totally destroying his national profile. Now he is even bragging about having been the one to apply leverage to remove the honorific from OLR’s presence. However, that doesn’t take away from the mayor’s specious hemming and hawing about how OLR had received commutations “from two Presidents,” something MMV repeated too. Do they think a commutation is like a Nobel Prize? Having your sentence commuted is a gesture of mercy, not recognition of your heroism.

I would like to take this moment to say to my colleagues in the press, and other close observers of the council, I told you so. From the moment of her ascendency to the speakership, I, and I alone, cautioned New York that, in the person of MMV, a radical and unstable personality had been placed in a position of power. The very week of her 2014 election, I published an analysis of the contradiction between her youth of immense privilege and the radical politics of her adulthood. A year later, in January 2015, I drew attention to her eulogy for Isabel Rosado Morales, a Puerto Rican separatist who took part in a two-hour gun battle with the police, and was convicted for her part in the attack on the floor of the House, when five Congressmen were wounded.

Following her first State of the City speech, in February 2015, I questioned her positioning of the Puerto Rican flag on the stage, in front of the flags of New York State and New York City, in contravention of all common sense and flag protocol. Why was anyone surprised this year, after the release of her cherished idol, that she finagled a grand honor for Oscar Lopez Rivera under the auspices of the parade that she controls? Her whole history indicated that MMV has a destructive, labile streak.

Anyway, you are welcome. Pointing out uncomfortable truths, years ahead of the news cycle, is what we do at City Council Watch—for free.

So we see another council speaker fade, fade away. When will everyone understand that the speaker of the city council is not a “citywide elected” post? It is barely a council-elected position. The speaker of the city council is chosen by the remnants of the city’s political machines in conjunction with the mayor. The Bronx and Queens council delegations will vote as a bloc, perhaps excepting one or two, giving Joe Crowley control of 22 votes. Any council member who can scrape together five or six independent votes and go to Boss Joe on his knees, promising to work as a faithful and reliable cog, can be the speaker.

That’s why we never see council speakers ever do anything else political afterward—they are all used up. Gifford Miller and Christine Quinn were just creations of the bosses. They had no citywide constituency. In fact, no one really knew who they were. Same thing with MMV: she will go down in city history as the nutcase who wanted to honor a convicted terrorist as a civic hero.

The retirement of Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is said to have “upended” the race for speaker, but that argument gets everything backward. She isn’t leaving the frontrunner space open: she is leaving because she couldn’t win. It wouldn’t make sense for Queens to have the speakership anyway, because it upsets the balance of power, and JFC was never, ever going to get the backing of Crowley. Even if they mended fences, she would always be the mayor’s first pick…so where would she owe her allegiance? The Progs don’t have the votes to deliver the speakership, so she did the math and, rightly, decided that she didn’t want to serve out a boring third term like Annabel Palma, out of power, with a minor chairmanship at best.

Really the biggest loser out of her retirement is Brad Lander. He no longer has a lodestar towards which he can summon the Prog rump to sail, with himself as captain. With MMV and JFC gone, Prog disintegration will be complete, and Brad will be Ahab with no crew, no ship, and no whale.

At this point, handicapping the speaker race, I would say Corey Johnson and Mark Levine each are running with a 40% likelihood. Donovan Richards and Rob Cornegy are outside chances with 5% each. The other 10% can be split among whoever else is pretending to run.

Mayor de Blasio Redacts Video Record to Remove Off-Message Statements

Mayor de Blasio held a press conference earlier this week at Tweed Courthouse to announce a major new policy directive. He was joined by Melissa Mark-Viverito, Zachary Carter, Carmen Fariña, Gale Brewer, Vanessa Gibson, Nisha Agarwal, Carlos Menchaca, Helen Rosenthal, and a number of other officials and advocates.

The announcement was that from now on ICE agents will not be allowed in DOE schools unless they have a warrant. Everybody took a turn at the mike to denounce fear and hate. Corporation Counsel Carter and the head of school security for the NYPD ran through all the new protocols and training, the chains of command and lines of authority, the phone trees and channels of communication. Who would authenticate the warrants, who would accompany the agents. What number to call when the children are arrested and where you can go to get help.

At question time I asked the obvious question: “How many incidents have there been so far of ICE agents trying to enter schools, with or without warrants.” Mayor de Blasio answered, “None, so far.” Hmm. Then I had another question for Chancellor Fariña.

Later I went on YouTube to review the video of the press conference. But when the video came to my question there was an odd skip: the first question was cut from the video, and picked up again about 15 seconds later with my question for Fariña.

Someone with authority in Mayor de Blasio’s communications department decided that his answer to my question was off-message, and edited the tape to erase the part where the mayor admits that his new policy directive addresses a problem that does not exist. Basically it was all for show.

I excerpted a clip from the video to preserve the evidence that the mayor’s press office redacted his comments. Here it is:


Later I wrote to the City Hall press office and asked them to put the unedited video online. I also asked them what their policy is on editing these videos, and whether they typically edit sections that they don’t want made available.

A few hours later they wrote back with a link to the unedited video. They removed the original, edited version,  and did not answer my other questions. I can send you the email if you want to see it. Here is the unedited video, which picks up where I first asked my question.

Mayor de Blasio has taken flak from the press for his bizarre “on-topic/off-topic” press conferences. He wants strictly to control his interactions with the press and ensure that his media availability serves his agenda, except for about fifteen minutes per week where he will take a handful of “off-topic” questions: that’s what he calls them, as though they are “impertinent” or “beside the point.”

Now it seems that in addition to limiting the types of questions the mayor will even hear, he and his staff will change the public record if his answers come out wrong.

By the way, here is an article I wrote for City Journal about the policy directive and how Mayor de Blasio uses fear as a political tool.

Speaker Violates Flag Protocol; Least of Her Crimes against Good Sense

First of all, watch this ten second video of Mayor de Blasio speaking in an odd cadence at the start of his State of the City speech:


'Nuff said.

So far nobody has ever explained why the Speaker of the city council gives a “State of the City” speech. Following the model of the Constitution, state and local executives are usually mandated, or at least expected, to deliver an annual address. But there is no pattern of leaders of legislatures giving these types of speeches.

Paul Ryan doesn’t give a “State of the Union” speech. Carl Heastie doesn’t give a “State of the State” speech. It’s “not a thing,” as people say. Mark-Viverito doesn’t get all the blame for it, because Peter Vallone started the tradition, but she has continued the corrosive practice and exalted its pomp and ceremony to absurd heights.

The latest iteration of this tired exercise was emceed by Majority Leader Jimmy van Bramer, who played Regis Philbin to MMV’s Joey Bishop: he warmed up the crowd with some lame jokes about how many people are running for Speaker and how Trump has turned his hair grey, and then introduced every councilmember, all of whom stood in turn for extremely thin applause. He then said something strange:

“I was just talking to our Speaker, who is about to come out here, and she asked me to say a few thank-yous and special acknowledgements. One, to thank every single one of you who are here today, live and in person, and then to thank all of those who are viewing this tremendous occasion on livestream, including those who are viewing from la isla del encanto, her beloved Puerto Rico. And a special shout-out to Jan, Alejandro, Clarisa y Oscar.”

Is Melissa Mark-Viverito too grand to make her own thank-yous to the crowd? Why did Jimmy van Bramer have to perform this weirdly servile duty, referencing “her beloved” homeland? It isn’t as though she wasn’t standing a few feet away.

The “special shout-out” is the key. Oscar refers of course to Oscar Lopez Rivera, the terrorist hero of Melissa Mark-Viverito granted clemency in the last week of the Obama administration: Clarisa is his daughter, Jan Susler is his lawyer, and Alejandro Garcia Padilla is the former governor of Puerto Rico. Apparently the Speaker didn’t want to mention Lopez Rivera in her own speech, so she gave the task to van Bramer. At least now we know what the Council Majority Leader is for.

Aficionados of flag etiquette may have noticed something odd up on the stage behind the Speaker. Eight flags were arrayed right behind her, including the standard of Puerto Rico, which was positioned to the extreme left of the group, next to the state flag of New York. The leftmost flag indicates precedence, so the Speaker was basically saying that the Puerto Rican flag was the most important flag of the group, ranking higher than the state, city, or borough flags.

Of course, we may ask why the Puerto Rican flag was up there in the first place. Melissa Mark-Viverito left la isla del encanto about thirty years ago, when she was a teenager, and has lived in NYC ever since. Though she has family in the Commonwealth and owns property there, she is not a Puerto Rican resident, much less an elected official. Yes, there are many Puerto Ricans in New York. There are also many people originally from New Jersey who live here now.  When Mayor de Blasio gave his State of the City speech he did not plant the flag of Massachusetts in front of the New York flags, and it would have been bizarre if he had done so. Given that the theme of the Speaker’s speech was our common identity as New Yorkers, it is off-putting that she felt the need to assert the primacy of her ethno-nationalist origins so blatantly.

Some dope on Twitter sent me pictures of Bloomberg waving an Italian flag and Giuliani standing by an Israeli flag, and asked if I had called them on it. Obviously there is nothing objectionable about celebrating other national identities on Columbus Day or whenever. But, as I informed my dopey correspondent, the State of the City speech is not the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Following Hillary Clinton's loss in November, it became painfully clear that Melissa Mark-Viverito had reached her political ceiling. She was certainly hoping (planning?) to get a job in DC with the new Clinton administration, and the disappearance of that opportunity underscored how lame a duck she really is. 

Oddly like her predecessor Christine Quinn, Mark-Viverito is not very well-liked even in her own district. MMV has never broken 50% in any of her primary runs. She has a lot of money in her campaign account, but what is she going to run for? There is no obvious path for her. One imagines that the Mayor could make her a deputy mayor or commissioner of something, but is that it?

Imagining that everyone in New York City is as desperate to find her a new job as she surely is, Mark-Viverito commissioned an ostensibly self-deprecating video showing her trying and failing to be a rapper, a comedian, a basketball get the drift.

Try watching it, if you are up to it. And ask yourself how busy she really is, if she has time to do this.


Some interesting primary challenges may be gearing up. We already talked about how Assemblymember Francisco Moya is planning a Joe Crowley-backed nuisance run against his 2009 rival Julissa Ferreras-Copeland. That rematch should be fun to watch. But over in Brooklyn there is a battle brewing where Ede Fox is likely preparing to primary Laurie Cumbo in the 35th CD, where she came in a close third in the tight 2013 primary to succeed Tish James.

Fox, a longtime Council staffer and a close ally to Mark-Viverito, was hired to run a new economic development unit within the Council administration—a plum appointment that irked the newly elected CM Cumbo, who wanted a concession from Fox that she wouldn’t run against her again. In the event, Cumbo recently learned that Fox was prepping to run, and the CM claimed that Fox was using her position as a Council staffer to develop opposition research against her, and should be fired.

Cumbo then went to the mayor’s side of City Hall and demanded that de Blasio put the squeeze on the Speaker to get rid of Ede Fox, or else she would oppose the controversial Bedford-Union Armory affordable housing plan, which is already under attack from local politicians. The mayor made a call, and Fox was out.

Next time: Carlos Menchaca, Palestine, and Felix Ortiz.

Last Words on Council Support for Terrorist: If Not Him, Who?

I used to think Melissa Mark-Viverito was smart. Recently I have come to re-evaluate my judgment of her basic intelligence, however. Maybe because she went to an Ivy League school, or because I was taken in by her supercilious manner, I “took her for her better,” as Hamlet said in a different context. But lately she has given me cause for doubt.

The first time was about a month or so ago when I asked her what she thought about council members blocking traffic to protest some cause—a higher minimum wage or something. Mark-Viverito said she approved of civil disobedience as a means of protest, and proudly said she had done it many times: “I engage in that kind of First Amendment way of expressing yourself.”

You see the problem? She doesn’t understand the difference between free speech and civil disobedience.  The First Amendment protects free speech. Civil disobedience is illegal behavior that a protestor commits to make a statement.

As I wrote in the Post, 

Mark-Viverito shows a deep, fundamental confusion about the meaning of civil disobedience. By definition, civil disobedience isn’t protected under the First Amendment. That’s why you get arrested for it.

If blocking traffic counted as protected speech, it wouldn’t be a crime — and it wouldn’t be civil disobedience. The problem is that elected professional radicals like Melissa Mark-Viverito and Brad Lander are so accustomed to not being punished for their civil disobedience that they no longer understand what it means.

You can’t fault her for not understanding the difference. Our society is so open and free that virtually no form of respectable dissent is ever punished--as long as the underlying cause is not “hateful,” in the technical sense. Blocking traffic, invading office buildings, chaining yourself to a post…does anyone get punished for this sort of thing? Not really. Most civil disobedience nowadays is a sham.

Maybe this softness is what leads someone like Melissa Mark-Viverito, who went to all the best schools, to believe that Oscar Lopez Rivera has been imprisoned for his beliefs. At her press conference the other day, following the commutation of his sentence, I asked her if she plans to continue the fight to get him a full pardon. Since she believes that he shouldn’t have been in jail at all, and that he is a political prisoner, doesn’t it make sense that he should be totally exonerated?

The Speaker appeared baffled by my question. “He’s coming out, he’s got unconditional release once he comes out,” she said, apparently unaware of the difference between clemency and pardon.  Oscar Lopez Rivera is still considered legally guilty of all his crimes.  

Mark-Viverito repeated at length her belief that Lopez Rivera was wrongly imprisoned.  “He is not directly linked to any act of violence… the disproportionate length of time he has served, strictly for his political beliefs…..He has not been accused, as I have indicated, of any act of violence, and that needs to be clear, etc. etc.”

I don’t know at this point if Melissa Mark-Viverito is legitimately stupid, or if she is just acting in wickedly bad faith by refusing to look at the facts of Lopez Rivera’s case, but the facts are clear. Oscar Lopez Rivera by his own admission was a leader of a group that called itself the “Armed Forces of National Liberation.” This organization claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings in the 1970s and early 80s: these bombings actually killed six people and wounded dozens of others.  Lopez Rivera had an apartment that was filled with equipment for making bombs, and he taught people how to make bombs.  

He was found guilty of multiple firearms violations, in addition to the main charge of seditious conspiracy. People who say that “conspiracy” means “nothing really happened” don’t understand how federal law operates.  Conspiracy charges are not proffered in the absence of evidence: they describe massive criminal enterprises with overwhelming evidence of mutual involvement.  

If Mark-Viverito believes that Lopez Rivera and the rest of the FALN were innocent, then who bombed all those buildings in their name?  It reminds me of OJ Simpson vowing to find Nicole’s and Ron Goldman’s killer.

When dupes like Melissa Mark-Viverito or hardened liars like Bill de Blasio insist on Lopez Rivera’s innocence because he was “only” convicted of seditious conspiracy, they sound exactly like the types of people who admire Charles Manson, and who point out that “Manson was never accused of killing anyone.”  In fact, Manson’s fans have a better case to make, because while Manson ordered the Tate-LaBianca murders, he apparently wasn’t present when they occurred.  But Oscar Lopez Rivera was actually involved in making and setting the bombs that terrorized New York and Chicago, and which killed and maimed people.

I’m done talking about Oscar Lopez Rivera, unless Melissa Mark-Viverito brings him on a victory tour of City Hall: I actually wouldn’t put it past her to bring him to lunch at Fraunces Tavern, the site of George Washington’s famous goodbye speech to his officers, and the locus of the FALN’s most deadly bombing.  The guy isn’t the first murderer to get out of prison.  Maybe 35 years was long enough.  I just think it is weird that the Speaker of the NYC Council spent so much of her and the city’s time working to free someone who actually placed bombs here.

Happy Inauguration Day, everybody!

Dirty Money; Open Races; Joe Crowley Gets Down to It

First some housekeeping.  Last year after the Rivington scandal broke I noticed that the CEO of the Allure Group, Solomon Rubin, had given Costa Constantinides $2500.  This was his only contribution to a city politician.  I asked Constantinides’ office about it in April and they said he was going to return the money, and that otherwise they had no comment to make about it.

Then this summer I checked the filings and I saw that the contribution was still listed.  I asked Constantinides about it directly and he said, “Oh we just returned it…it won’t show up until January.”  I asked him why Rubin gave him the check in the first place, and how they know each other…after all, Allure doesn’t seem to do any business in Astoria.  The CM was vague about it.

Anyway, the filings are out, and Constantinides still has the $2500 from Solomon Rubin in his account.  So either he keeps lying about it, or his campaign treasurer is doing a poor job of keeping up to date with accounts.  If Constantinides wants to take money from shady sources it is his business…why won’t he just own up to it?


When the city council gave itself a massive pay raise last year, councilmembers praised themselves cynically for what they claimed to be a reformist measure that would encourage a broad segment of the population to seek office.  Brad Lander, who yields to no one in self-congratulation, said that the salary increase would be a great way to get people to “run whether they're small business people, whether they're attorneys, whether they're non-profit leaders, whether they're labor leaders, whether they're professionals.  You know, whether they're people who are just working hard to represent their communities, we want them to be able to run for these offices.”

This argument was repeated by a lot of the supporters of the pay raise, and it is basically the same argument that is used for public financing of campaigns: to increase the field of candidates and bring more political outsiders into the mix.  Well, let’s take a look at who is likely to win some of this year’s open Council seats now that the great reforms are in effect:

Annabel Palma will be replaced by Ruben Diaz, Sr. (State Senate)

Jimmy Vacca will (probably) be replaced by Mark Gjonaj (Assembly)

Melissa Mark-Viverito will (probably) be replaced by Robert Rodriguez (Assembly)

Inez Dickens will likely be replaced by Bill Perkins (Senate)

Vincent Gentile will probably be replaced by Peter Abbate (Assembly)

Rosie Mendez will probably be replaced by her aide Carlina Rivera

Dan Garodnick’s and Darlene Mealy’s seats appear to be actually open contests, unusually.

Basically the pay raise has just turned the Council into a place for supernumerary incumbents to go and hang around for eight years, collect double the pay, and not have to schlep to Albany.  If you thought that it was important for Peter Abbate, who has been in the Assembly for thirty years, proposing bizarre giveaways to the Port Authority police officers’ union, to have an easier commute as he eases into his golden years, then you should be very happy with how things have turned out.


It has been interesting the last month or so to see how Joe Crowley has been flexing his muscle locally.  A week after Jimmy Vacca endorsed Marjorie Velazquez, the wife of his former aide Jeff Lynch, to replace him in the Council, Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj announced his own candidacy for the seat.  Joining Gjonaj, who is said to be annoyed at Vacca’s move, were major power brokers Jeff Klein—who arguably runs the State Senate—and Joe Crowley, who runs Queens and represents Pelham Bay in Congress.  If Crowley and Klein come out this early to an announcement, it indicates that they are serious about the campaign.

The other Crowley play is out in Corona, where Assemblyman Francisco Moya is planning to mount a primary challenge to Council Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.  Moya and his brother Edgar have long been Crowley protégés, and used to call themselves, unaccountably, the “Kennedys of Corona.”  In February 2009, when Moya and Ferreras first battled for the 21st Council seat in a special election, Moya was backed by Crowley’s County organization.  Of course, it didn’t do him an enormous amount of good: Ferreras won with less than 2300 votes total, to Moya’s 1250.  Amazing how little it takes to win an election in some council districts!

Anyway, the fact that Moya is making moves now to primary a woman who is nominally very powerful, indicates some machinations on the part of the County organization, and likely says a thing or two about the Speaker race.  Ferreras-Copeland, as I have mentioned before, has always been outside the Queens County machine.  In recent years she has thrown in her lot strongly with the WFP/Progressive wing of the city power structure, and in particular is allied closely with a group of rabble rousers known as Make the Road: her recent chief of staff Daniel Coates was a former Make the Road staffer.  This group, which gets funding from the Council to provide various services to immigrants (literacy classes, “outreach” on rights, etc.), controversially makes its clients attend organizational and advocacy meetings as a condition of receiving services.  A key Make the Road executive, Javier Valdes, is apparently making the rounds of the Council encouraging members to support Ferreras-Copeland for Speaker.

The Queens delegation regulars are likely to line up with Crowley.  A number of them are still annoyed that Ferreras-Copeland got the Mayor to let her have control of a new Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy, which even has a Make the Road member on its board, yet which other neighboring councilmembers were excluded from.  Francisco Moya’s candidacy for Council is likely a shot across Ferreras-Copeland’s—and by extension, the Mayor’s-- bow that their plans for the Speakership run through Joe Crowley.

Curiously, the Council pay raise will probably have an impact on the Speaker race too.  Most of the new councilmembers will likely be former state legislators.  In 2013, you may recall, there were a great many freshmen in City Hall, for whom a call from the Mayor-elect on behalf of Melissa Mark-Viverito’s candidacy was enormously significant.  This time around, a bunch of veteran pols who have seen de Blasio take beatings from Cuomo, Hillary Clinton, Trump, etc., will not be cowed into supporting his candidate for Speaker.

Even if de Blasio walks into re-election with no opposition, he won’t be in the same position he was in last time.  He will not have the same leverage with the council, and it is a certainty that Crowley and Crespo are not going to get rolled twice.


In case you missed it, I wrote a lengthy, in-depth review of Charlie Rangel’s half-century representing Central Harlem, for the Autumn issue of City Journal.   It is pretty amazing, if I say so myself.  Here is a link to it, and to some of my other recent pieces there.

I also wrote some Council-related stuff for the Post recently, which you may find interesting especially if you find Brad Lander as annoying as I do.

Melissa Mark-Viverito Misses the Mark

Was anyone in New York City more dismayed by Donald Trump’s victory than Melissa Mark-Viverito?  True, the Mayor looked pretty bummed out at his press conference yesterday, but one gets the sense that he didn’t have quite so much personally at stake in the election result.  Of course Bill de Blasio now has to go hat-in-hand to a President who owes him nothing, and probably thinks of him as a fool, but the mayor never really expected anything for himself from a Hillary Clinton administration anyway, except for an easy time in getting federal aid and plenty of White House access.  He will keep being mayor, and will probably even get another term.

 Melissa Mark-Viverito, on the other hand, had banked heavily on a Clinton win.  She came out very early for Hillary, and made herself available for all kinds of surrogacy opportunities.  She probably wanted to get the job of immigration policy czar that Clinton announced while she was in town for the DNC, and she was also probably counting on Clinton to pardon Oscar Lopez Rivera in exchange for all her hard work on behalf of the campaign.  There were likely all kinds of understandings about Puerto Rican debt and sovereignty that were mutually acknowledged as well. 

 The Speaker spent a lot of time working for Clinton in Florida, drumming up votes among the Puerto Rican expat community that has grown dramatically in the last few years since the economic crisis hit the territory.  It’s no secret that increasing Latino turnout was a key element of the Clinton election strategy.  It’s also no secret that Mark-Viverito was committed to promoting the idea that the Latino vote would be the decisive factor in a Clinton victory.

 For the last few weeks, Mark-Viverito’s Twitter feed and other statements were a constant hum hitting two topics over and over: that Hillary would win; and that Latinos would elect her.  “The Latino vote will be the nail in Trump’s coffin,” she told Jezebel on a Facebook Live chat.  “Pollsters far and wide better wise up soon. Latino voters only growing,” she tweeted on Election Day morning.  “It is the Latino vote that is going to be decisive, without a doubt,” she told Megyn Kelly the night before.  “#PoderLatino” she tweeted.  “Trump started this campaign denigrating Latinos - and it is Latinos who are going to end his campaign,” Mark-Viverito’s communication director tweeted, quoting her.  “Psst. It's #PuertoRico. #ByeByeTrump--The little island that could have a big impact on Trump's chances,” she tweeted last Saturday.  “Never ever EVER doubted this would be the case. Karma is rearing its head. Latinos are taking the Trumpster DOWN!” she tweeted last Friday. Etc., etc.; we could do this all day, all the way through the last year.

 Melissa Mark-Viverito assumed that Hillary would win; her job was basically to do outreach among Puerto Ricans.  She however assigned herself the role of promoting “Latino Power” as the bloc that would put Hillary over the top.  So which was her real goal—electing Hillary Clinton, or establishing herself as a power broker in command of an essential demographic segment? 

 For decades (literally) we have been hearing about the coming wave of Latino voters that would be the deciding factor in American politics.  Yet every four years the Latino share of the electorate runs between 9 and 11 percent.  It is creeping up, but at the same time, the Latino vote is becoming less and less monolithic.  The horrible takeaway this year (at least for Melissa Mark-Viverito) is that Latino support for Trump was two points higher than its support for Romney was in 2012, and the Latino vote for Clinton was seven points lower than it was for Obama four years ago.

 So could it be that increasing Latino turnout actually hurt Hillary? 

 Probably not in an arithmetical sense.  But the funny thing about ethnopolitics is that it cuts two ways.  Hammering on the Latino question the way she did, Melissa Mark-Viverito necessarily drove a wedge between the black/Latino constituency that is ever more essential to Democratic electoral victory.  Who’s to say that the apparent decline in black turnout this year wasn’t partially affected by the Clinton campaign’s appeal to Latinos as the new core of the Democratic Party, and the strong rhetoric of prominent surrogates such as MMV?

 Anyway, Hillary lost.  Melissa Mark-Viverito will not have a role in the Clinton Administration.  She is now just a lame duck city councilmember who was unable to deliver the vaunted Latino vote in Florida, despite her continual banging on that one note.

 While we are on the subject of Melissa Mark-Viverito’s screw-ups, let’s also take note of her silence on the arrest of Assemblymember Diana Richardson for beating her 12-year old son with a broomstick.

 Remember that it was very recently that the Speaker unveiled a new campaign against “domestic violence in sports,” whatever that means.  #NotAFan shows MMV and a bunch of local sports stars saying that they are “not fans” of domestic violence.  Ok, fine…a good cause.  So when a Brooklyn politician is arrested for DV/child abuse you would think that would fall under the Speaker’s rubric. 

 But apparently not!  She didn’t say a word about it…nothing.  And this is just a month after Zymere Perkins, another little boy, was beaten to death with a broomstick, apparently by his mother and her boyfriend, in some conjunction.

 So Diana Richardson’s alleged crime (note that her son, who is apparently a mild-mannered child and rather small, walked himself to the precinct and reported his mother) doesn’t matter to the Speaker.  No—the Speaker’s anti-DV campaign is only concerned with violence committed by athletes, not legislators. 

 Melissa Mark-Viverito has a very easy relationship with the local press, and hasn’t taken a lot of heat.  She has run a pretty smooth PR system heretofore.  But between her ethnosupremacy and her weird domestic violence campaign, one has to wonder if her PR machine is starting to show signs of strain.

MMV Security Detail: Semper Fi

Perhaps getting ready for her hoped-for gig as immigration czar for President Hillary Clinton, Melissa Mark-Viverito is spending a lot of time in Washington these days.  Today she is at Georgetown University talking about the role of the Latina in politics.  Last weekend she went to Lafayette Park, across from the White House, to stand next to life-sized effigies of convicted terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera and demand that President Obama release him.

 Almost every day the Speaker’s press office sends out a notice about what she’s doing the following day.  Curiously, there was no such advisory sent out the day before her trip to DC, even though she rallied with presumptive US Representative Adriano Espaillat, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, and the mayor of San Juan.  Well, Melissa Mark-Viverito is allowed to do things on weekends without alerting everyone about it, one supposes.  Agitating for Oscar Lopez Rivera’s release from prison is like her private hobby.  We don’t expect her to tell us when she goes to the movies or ice skating, so why should this be any different?

Except, unlike most of the people in our nation’s capital last Sunday marching for their hero, Speaker Mark-Viverito was accompanied by at least one of her NYPD bodyguards.  One might assume that when the Speaker rides a chartered bus on a day trip to petition her government to let a seditionist out of prison, that she could manage it on her own.  Not to detract from her public image, but it is very doubtful that she is so widely known outside of (or within, for that matter) the five boroughs to merit such vigilance on the part of New York’s Finest.

Her press office wouldn’t confirm that the Speaker had her Praetorians with her last week or not, although they did say that she is going to today’s shindig by herself.  But there are photographs online that show one of her usual City Hall bodyguards keeping watch over her. Mark-Viverito’s spokesman also said that it is the NYPD that determines whether or not to accompany her.  Maybe the fact that there was going to be a demonstration made the police worry about her safety—let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and say that’s what happened.

 (As a counter-example and a sign of how far things have gone, let me relate a little anecdote: when I was a kid I lived outside Washington DC.  One time, my father was going to work in a snowstorm, and the buses weren’t running, or were late.  He started walking, and then someone stopped to give him a ride.  He got in, and it was Tip O’Neill, who was then Speaker of the House, third in line to the Presidency, driving by himself to work, and picking up strangers in the snow.)

While we are on the subject, what happens if Tish James becomes Kings County DA?  Presumably there are a number of people who might want to be Public Advocate.  Dan Squadron came close last time, and may want another shot.  Brad Lander is another reasonable guess.  But could PA be a spot for the Speaker to shoot for as well?  As of July’s filings she has almost $800,000 in her 2017 campaign account.  That would be a nice start towards a citywide run in a special election.  Also, this scenario would then advance the race for the next Speaker significantly.


ALSO.  Maybe you don't know it, but I publish pretty frequently in City Journal and other places.  Here are links to some of my recent items:

Now NYC has Publicly Funded Mobs

Sour Apple: New Yorkers push back against Bill de Blasio’s progressive vision for the city.


Real Walls and Imaginary Bridges


Peak Stupid at the City Council

Something odd is happening in the City Council. Perhaps it has something to do with the national nervous breakdown that the country is having over the Presidential election, but the aggregate stupidity on display at the Council is reaching a new height.

Last week Antonio Reynoso thought it would be a good idea to participate in the “shutdown” of a City Planning Commission meeting. Angry that a real estate developer was planning to build a residential building on private land near his district, Reynoso accompanied a mob to scream and blow whistles until the public hearing was closed. The videos are great: Reynoso’s gratified look of accomplishment when the City Planning people announced that they would end the meeting is adorable, like a three year old who is sure his mashed potato-and-ketchup art installation on the carpet will delight his babysitter.

When asked about the appropriateness of Reynoso’s gesture—invading Steve Levin’s district to disrupt an early-stage land use discussion—Speaker Mark-Viverito acknowledged that it was “not productive.” She went on to say that the Council’s protocol of letting CMs have power over zoning and land use negotiations is a matter of “respect.” Given her typical reticence over matters of internal discipline, it is probably fair to say that this unusually direct language signals some serious displeasure with Reynoso’s tantrum. (You can read my column in the Post about the city funded nonprofit groups that provided the muscle at the hearing here.)

On a side note, Reynoso put out a strange tweet the other day. The local precinct was holding a community meeting about the K2 epidemic. Reynoso put on his Twitter feed: “W/ @NYC fighting stigma & stereotypes of K2 as we find real solutions to assist the most vulnerable people of our communities @NYPD83Pct

“Fighting stigma & stereotypes of K2…” So is Reynoso trying to destigmatize K2? That’s a new one. My impression was that the entire city—including the mayor and the council—were working overtime to make K2 as stigmatized as possible, which is why they put up those “K2: 0% marijuana, 100% dangerous” signs everywhere. And as for fighting the “stereotypes” of K2, I would be curious to see the counter cases. You know, the working mother of three who buys a $3 bag of pesticide-laced lawn clippings to unwind after a hard day, but who still reads to her kids and helps them with their homework.

At the last stated meeting Jumaane Williams did not stand up during the Pledge of Allegiance. Just in case nobody noticed, he drew careful attention to his action by putting out press releases, tweeting about it, going on TV to talk about it, etc etc. Williams said he was aligning himself with civil rights leader and second-string quarterback Colin Kaepernick in protesting state violence against black people.

Charles Barron spent 8 years sitting down during the Pledge of Allegiance and I don’t recall anybody asking him much about it, mostly because it is an extremely cheap and obvious form of getting publicity while pretending to make a statement. As with other instances of council members playing at protest, nothing is at stake. The authoritative moment came in 2014, when CM’s blocked Broadway after Eric Garner’s death: protected by the NYPD, they stopped the flow of traffic, and then went inside and held a stated meeting.

Does no one else see how feckless and indulgent this kind of thing is? The Council is an elected body: they are the government. They are the Man. Whom are they protesting against? Themselves? The whole point of civil disobedience is that it has a cost: actual jail time, or loss of income. Striking a dramatic pose and pretending to be part of a revolutionary movement is just a form of dress-up when there is literally no consequence to your actions.

This week a few brave CM’s joined Jumaane Williams in not saying the Pledge of Allegiance. They stood outside and made idiotic, sophistical speeches about patriotism and justice. Brad Lander read some prepared remarks for four minutes, demonstrating once again that no elected official in New York City has a higher opinion of himself or sets a lower bar of personal accomplishment. A lot of the discussion surrounded Williams’ absolute “right” to sit in his seat while everyone else stands. But nobody is disputing his “right.” If anything, people are questioning his privilege.

Williams got hate mail from some crank, and this was trotted out as a kind of ex post facto validation of his insipid protest. Everyone wrung out their tear-soaked hankies and cried some more for the cameras, shivering at the thought that racists among us had ventured from their caves to hurl invective at Jumaane Williams’ nobility. Even Melissa Mark-Viverito got into the act. At the end of the stated meeting, she read a speech aloud (after first demanding that all the CMs be quiet and listen to her) reminding everyone that she also used to not say the Pledge of Allegiance, and that she was accused of not being patriotic…and it Hurt! It hurt a lot!

She looked right at Karen Kozlowitz during these remarks, for it was Kozlowitz who had told the papers in 2013 that MMV didn’t say the Pledge out of disregard for America’s foreign policy. Kozlowitz didn’t flinch: total stone face. Best part of the meeting.

Incidentally, the fact that MMV didn't say the Pledge isn't what makes me think she is unpatriotic: her devotion to jailed terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera says a lot more about that subject.

I wanted to get into the BDS stuff from last stated meeting…that was also fantastic. But to do it justice would push this close to 2000 words. Maybe next time...let me know if you want a play-by-play.

Jumaane Williams Says J'Ouvert Criticism is Racist; Housing in the Bronx

The Council voted “yes” yesterday on La Central, a massive new housing development in the Melrose section of the Bronx, near the Hub. The development will include almost 1000 units of affordable housing, maxing out at 100% AMI. The developers will build a YMCA and other amenities. Sounds like a great deal; a victory for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.

Questions arose about what made this development acceptable, as opposed to the Sherman Plaza proposal in Inwood that was struck down last month. Speaker Mark-Viverito spoke in generalities about individual projects and the needs of different communities, and the ability to leverage neighborhood opposition. Everyone praised CM Rafael Salamanca for getting such a fantastic deal for his district.

Indeed it is hard to understand the economics of La Central at first face. Area rents are pretty low, and 100% AMI is basically market rate anyway. How are the developers making money here, and why isn’t the administration celebrating La Central as a victory for its housing policy?

It all becomes clear when you understand that the developers are getting the land for free. The city owns the land where La Central will rise, which completely changes the economics of the development. Throwing in a free YMCA or a school is easy when construction and labor are the only costs. There is no basis for comparison between La Central and Sherman Plaza: it is a totally different structure.

There aren’t very many massive city-owned lots like this one left, so La Central is not a model for future developments. And the whole thing was planned under Bloomberg, so the current administration can’t really take credit for it.

Following the J’Ouvert disaster, CMs Jumaane Williams and Laurie Cumbo went on Inside City Hall to defend the event, and argue for its continuation. Or rather, they contended that the city is more or less powerless to do anything about J’Ouvert anyway, short of imposing martial law. It was a gesture of surrender. This was the first year that the city issued a permit for the event, but for what? J’Ouvert isn’t a parade: it is a mass assemblage of people milling around and party hopping. The NYPD erected more than 200 light towers and doubled its presence to 3400 officers. Nevertheless “gunplay” broke out and two people were killed.

CM Williams made the astonishing claim that criticism of J’Ouvert is racist. First he insinuated that people concerned about the seemingly inevitable murders are hypocrites who don’t care about gun violence except when J’Ouvert rolls around. “The people who have been working on this issue should continue to work on it. There are people who haven’t been working on gun violence issues…there are people in the media…we can’t continue to equate ‘No J’Ouvert’ as ‘No gun violence.’” Indeed: the J’Ouvert murders are symptomatic of the high rate of gun violence in Brooklyn’s African American and West Indian neighborhoods. Who disputes this? Do we have to shrug our shoulders and accept the one city-sponsored event that almost always winds up with people dead?

Williams then went on to say, “I can’t pretend that there haven’t been attacks on every aspect of cultural stuff, particularly when it pertains to blacks. There has been no violence at the Brooklyn Museum events, but there have been people trying to stop those events for years. There was no violence with the drummers in Harlem, but people have been trying to stop that for years.”

This statement from Jumaane Williams is possibly the most demented concatenation of non-sequiturs I have heard from a council member on television. There are two million black people in NYC, with a hugely diverse number of cultural events (or “stuff”) going on all the time. Is it really the case that the city’s white racist cultural/political class is “attack[ing] every aspect” of black cultural expression?

The Brooklyn Museum event Williams references are the “First Saturday” evenings at the museum, which used to be basically a dance party, and was retooled to be more performance oriented when some people said that a club vibe wasn’t really in line with the generally reserved milieu of a museum. Nobody picketed it or said anything racist. The Harlem drumming refers to the Marcus Garvey Park Saturday evening drum circles, which go on for hours and annoy some of the neighbors. There was some minor racially-tinged tension regarding the drumming a few years ago, and their spot has been moved a few times. Probably there are some neighbors who would prefer not to have to listen to drumming. But there has been no racist suppression of the drummers. Black culture lives on in New York--somehow.

Jumaane Williams was totally off-base implying that J’Ouvert criticism is racist. Let two years go by with no shootings or stabbings, and the criticism will cease.

Julissa, Corey, Mark Levine: The Three Real Candidates

Let’s get down to brass tacks about the Speaker’s race.

Some of the people who are announced candidates aren’t really running, or have zero chance of winning.  They are in there in order to establish leverage for something later, or as stalking horses for another candidate.

For example, Vanessa Gibson is supposedly running, but she can’t win, and must know it.  “She has zero chance,” says a member of the Bronx delegation.  Why not?  She is an experienced legislator, not too, too liberal, and a woman of color…sounds perfect.  But the Speaker of the Assembly is already from the Bronx.  There is no way that the Bronx is going to be allowed so much political dominance: neither the Mayor, nor the Queens or Brooklyn delegations would ever countenance it. 

Also, for an outer-borough member, in certain ways it is better not to try to become Speaker.  “It gives you less to bargain with for your delegation,” says the Bronx member quoted above.  If Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx gets the Speakership, then they lose out on other goodies, such as patronage positions, top committee chairs, precedence in capital allocations, etc. 

From a simplistic perspective, the Speaker race can be made to sound like a popularity contest. But if that were the case, neither the notoriously prickly Christine Quinn nor the aloof Melissa Mark-Viverito would have become Speaker.  The Speakership is a power play, and it is mostly decided not by individual councilmembers, but by the county bosses and the Mayor.  

Unless someone can sit down and explain to you their path to the Speakership and how it threads the needle of county leadership, then he or she isn’t a serious candidate for the position.  It is that simple.  Part of the path obviously means demonstrating trustworthiness to one’s colleagues…but that is only part of it.

Jumaane Williams is not really in consideration.  As an outer-borough member of the Progressive Bloc he has a hard road, because the core of that contingent is already coalesced around Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.   As a member from Brooklyn he operates at a notable disadvantage (explained in greater depth below.) Also, Jumaane is pro-life and (apparently still) anti-gay marriage.  So that’s a tough call.

Ydanis Rodriguez is not a real candidate.  His stated path consists of “reaching out to other members.”  He is close to the mayor, which could be a plus or a minus, depending on how things go with Preet Bharara.  But Rodriguez is hampered by ethical questions such as the job his wife held under his friend Commissioner Feniosky Pena-Mora, as well as questions of temperament.

Jimmy van Bramer is not really running either.  His explanation of his path is nebulous. The likelihood is that he is positioning himself to retain his Majority Leader position or to get a good chairmanship next time.

Robert Cornegy told me he isn't running.  He gets mentioned as a candidate, but says he is interested in pursuing influence outside of the Speaker's office.

Donovan Richards was said to be in the running, but says he is not.

Right now there are three real candidates for the Speakership: Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Corey Johnson, and Mark Levine.  If you talk to any councilmember who isn’t just mouthing words, they will agree that these are the serious candidates.

You will recall that in 2013 MMV was one of several credible candidates, including Dan Garodnick and Mark Weprin.  She won the Speakership because Bill de Blasio, newly elected, weighed in for her and put pressure on the Progressive Bloc to unify behind her.  He then assembled the additional seven or eight necessary votes by squeezing Kings County boss Frank Seddio to come along, with the promise of jobs for his regulars and key committee chairs.  

Julissa’s path to power is to stage a repeat of 2013: to get the Progressives aligned behind her, and have the mayor nudge Brooklyn and some independents to put her over the line.  But this vision, which worked for MMV, is seriously flawed.

First of all, the Progressive Caucus is diminished, both in size and power.  Several members of the PC who are listed on its website are either no longer members, or are only there nominally.  The PC was founded in 2010 in order to influence the Speakership: once that happened, the caucus lost its motive force.  Who needs the revolutionary vanguard once the revolution has won?    

Except for MMV, all of the PC members can run for another term, so they will not lose any members through attrition.  Ben Kallos has spoken of expanding the Caucus next term, but the odds of that happening seem unlikely.  A total of 8 CMs will vacate their seats, and there is a good chance that 5 of those seats will go to current state legislators, all of whom already have longstanding alliances outside the PC.  At the outside the PC could maybe pick up one extra member, and that is by no means assured.

The PC cannot count on member discipline this time around, either.  The fact that they were promised an internal Speaker primary in 2013 but then ordered to get in line for MMV has made the members mistrustful of the Caucus leadership.  Brad Lander is generally seen to be carrying water for Julissa’s campaign, and his appeals for “Progressive unity” are thinly veiled calls to get behind her candidacy now.  Such clumsy power plays within the PC have annoyed members who haven’t yet signed on to march, to Brad’s drumbeat, over the cliff of fealty to the cause. 

Furthermore, as I have mentioned before, Julissa is not on particularly close terms with the party organizations in either Queens or the Bronx.  She has always positioned herself as an insurgent.  It didn’t help that she alienated a number of Central Queens colleagues when she got the mayor to help her establish a Flushing Meadows-Corona Park conservancy that is more or less under her control.  She even had her Make the Road ally Javier Valdes placed on the conservancy board…though he appears to live in Brooklyn.  Rory Lancman has sued the mayor over the conservancy deal, and by all accounts the other CMs whose districts border the park are also annoyed.

Basically, Julissa has about 9 or 10 votes that are solidly for her…core Prog diehards.  To win the race she would need the mayor to repeat his 2013 squeeze, but de Blasio is in a much-reduced state now.  In Philadelphia at the DNC all the buzz was reportedly about how weak and ineffectual de Blasio is, and his dismal speaking slot didn’t help matters.  It was hard not to think, as the Mayor left the stage, and the “In Memorium” video began, that the funereal strains marked the bell tolling for him.  Even people who don't like de Blasio cringed at his diminishment. Sic transit gloria mundi.

One CM put the whole Speaker race like this: “If it’s a Mayor play, it’s Julissa; if it’s a County play, it’s Corey.” Joe Crowley and Marcus Crespo, not to mention Carl Heastie, are angry about how things went down last time.  “They felt humiliated,” says a knowledgeable insider, “and do not want to let the mayor pick the Speaker again.” Corey Johnson has been aggressively courting members of the Queens and Bronx delegations, and making nice to the County bosses.  

“Corey can out-hustle anyone,” says the CM quoted above.  As an example of how Corey operates, take a look at Carlina Rivera’s latest CFB filings. Johnson is listed as an intermediary for her campaign, having raised $14,950 for her from his donors.  Corey is the only elected official listed as an intermediary in the entire system: a significant signal to the rest of his colleagues that not only can he raise money for himself, but that he is willing to spread the wealth.

Mark Levine is a bit of a dark horse at this point…but he cannot be eliminated as a candidate.  As a Manhattan CM he occupies that neutral space between Brooklyn on one hand and the Bronx/Queens on the other which seems so crucial to the balance of power in New York.  Levine’s play is to keep himself as a viable alternative should either Corey or Julissa implode, or if a standoff ensues where neither of them is considered acceptable to one party, he could emerge as a compromise.

So that’s where we are at.  But things could change.  So stay posted.


Mayor de Blasio's "Straw Intermediary"

Campaign finance intermediaries or “bundlers” are typically well-connected, wealthy and powerful people who collect a lot of money for a candidate in order to demonstrate their influence.

So how is one of Mayor de Blasio’s significant bundlers a 31-year old underemployed aspiring taxi driver who lives with her parents in Bay Ridge?

Look at the list of de Blasio’s bundlers…right between Harold Ickes and Suri Kasirer—two of the biggest players in city lobbying—you will find Ahlam Jaoui, who raised $18,800 for the mayor in January of 2016.  

A graduate of the College of Staten Island, Ms. Jaoui was on the swimming team, and later worked as a swimming instructor for autistic children.  She lists her employer as “Two Dots Marketing” of Torrance, California.  Two Dots is an agency that books people to work at trade shows or marketing events as “brand ambassadors.”

Ms. Jaoui was in the news in 2014 when a new woman-operated ride-share app was introduced. “SheRides,”also known as “SheTaxis” or “SheHails,” was advertised as a safe way to connect women livery drivers with women passengers.  The service’s publicity campaign focused on Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women—both drivers and riders—who only wanted to deal with other women.

Ahlam Jaoui featured prominently in several articles about SheRides.  In the Daily News she was pictured wearing a hijab, explaining that she wants badly to become a taxi driver.  “I’m so excited to be part of this movement … This gives us the opportunity to feel empowered while keeping our traditional values ... We as women can overcome this male-dominated industry.”

Elsewhere, Jaoui was quoted saying, “This is an opportunity to make money and also have my religious beliefs."  She added, "I have a lot of family members that are (male) drivers, but (they) wouldn’t feel comfortable with me driving other men." 

Ahlam Jaoui: modern woman

Ahlam Jaoui: modern woman

Ahlam Jaoui may be very religious, or have her own standards of religiosity of which it is not our place to judge.  However, her Facebook profile contains a number of revealing bikini shots that would seem to belie her stated need for cloistered modesty.

Clash of civilizations??

Clash of civilizations??

Additionally, Ms. Jaoui appears to have been arrested for drunk driving in September, 2015.  She filed a motion to dismiss the charges of “driving while intoxicated” and “driving while ability impaired” on the grounds that the court violated her right to a speedy trial; the motion was denied on May 16.  Naturally the presumption of innocence obtains in this unresolved case, though if Ms. Jaoui is guilty, then it might be hard for her to get a TLC license, and her strict religious practice might be brought into question as well—although only God is the true judge of that case.

SheRides, or SheHails as it is now called, was founded by Stella Mateo, the wife of Fernando Mateo, the prominent and controversial founder of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers.  Fernando Mateo, a native of the Dominican Republic who now lives in tony Irvington in Westchester, made a fortune in carpets before organizing mostly Latino livery drivers uptown.  

Mateo, a noted Republican fundraiser who brought Texas governor Rick Perry to Inwood in 2012, makes the news frequently.  A few years ago he raised eyebrows when he called on taxi drivers to racially profile their hails.  More recently, as an investor in the well-known Dyckman Street waterside club La Marina, Mateo offered to have a boxing match with his partners in order to settle a contentious business dispute.

SheRides/SheHails was launched in 2014, but questions regarding the legality of hiring only women as drivers forced the service to go on hiatus.  Reconfigured to allow for both men and women drivers, the company is attempting to get around New York City’s Human Rights Law by letting the passenger choose the driver.  Supposedly the company will re-launch this summer with its new business model.

The donors whom Ahlam Jaoui bundled on behalf of Mayor de Blasio seem to travel in orbits that she would be unlikely to enter or influence on her own.  Two of the largest donors, Antonio Cabrera and Damian Rodriguez, are Dominican-American owners of major car service companies in Upper Manhattan who contributed $3500 and $2500 respectively to the 2017 de Blasio campaign.

Jaoui also raised $2500 from Jeannette Castillo, an unemployed Yonkers woman; $1000 from Wendy Estevez, a “consultant” to Washington Heights nightclub Arka Lounge; $3000 from Bronx daycare operator Luis Ducasse; and $2500 from New Jersey attorney Oscar Herasme, a former assistant DA in the New York County District Attorney’s office who specializes in anti-money laundering and immigrant affinity fraud matters.

Now it may be the case that Ahlam Jaoui of her parents’ house in Bay Ridge, who is signed up to find work as a trade show brand ambassador, who is willing to pose wearing a hijab and say that she wants to drive a taxi, and whose LinkedIn profile lists her as still working for an out-of-business investment company, is also a well-positioned power broker who can convince lawyers and business owners in Westchester and New Jersey to contribute thousands of dollars to Mayor de Blasio’s re-election campaign.

But it seems more likely that millionaire power couple Stella and Fernando Mateo are trying to get their woman-oriented rideshare business going after two years, and are still working out the regulatory kinks.  It seems more plausible that the Mateos raised money from livery and nightclub industry associates, and from neighbors and other business connections who have interests in upper Manhattan and the Bronx, perhaps in order to get leverage in the de Blasio administration when it comes to smoothing over the rougher edges in their business model, which at the end of the day still demands that either the rider or the driver discriminate on the basis of sex, and thus runs afoul of the law.  And more likely that they, for some reason, decided to suborn Ahlam Jaoui to serve as the straw intermediary in this weird scheme.

This is circumstantial.  But something is definitely going on.  Look at the list of de Blasio’s bundlers.  Virtually every single one of them is a well-connected, boldface name, or is an executive at a major real estate company or the equivalent.  Except for Ahlam Jaoui, whose only apparent connection to the world of city politics and money-power-influence is via the Mateos.  If there is a better explanation, make it fit.

Brad Lander's "Spouse Donors"

Brad Lander of Park Slope raised eyebrows recently when he called backers of Yungman Lee, who is challenging Nydia Velazquez in the Democratic primary, “scumbags.”  Lander refused to retract the insult, saying that he was characterizing “LLCs, shell corporations, and special-interest money” and not individuals.

LLCs and “straw donors” have been in the news lately, with questionable financing practices in the 2014 state senate elections in particular coming under heavy scrutiny.  These entities allow political donors to disguise their identities, and to give unlimited amounts of money, with varying degrees of illegality.

There is another way in which candidates and their donors work together to disguise the source of political contributions, which is to list spouses of prominent givers as the source of the donation.  This method is totally legal, and isn’t necessarily unethical.  But it is certainly interesting, especially when the spouse has a different name and is the only member of the marital unit to donate, and when you see it you can make useful assumptions about traces that are being intentionally brushed over.

We see a number of these kinds of spousal donations in Brad Lander’s current 2017 campaign finance filings:

Kate Engelbrecht is a “self-employed author” who maxed out to Lander.  She is the wife of Jed Walentas, who owns Brooklyn real estate development company Two Trees Management.  Walentas himself was limited to a $250 donation because he does business with the city.

Ayala Barnett, “homemaker,” gave Lander $2750.  Her husband Gary Barnett runs Extell Development, which built the 90-story luxury One57 tower.  Mr. Barnett does business with the city and was limited to a $250 Lander donation.

Amy Rutkin, Jerry Nadler’s chief of staff, gave Brad Lander $2750.  Her wife is Valerie Berlin, the noted political consultant and partner of BerlinRosen, currently under investigation by the office of the US Attorney.

Claire Silberman, “homemaker,” gave Lander’s campaign $1500. She is married to hedge fund magnate Stuart Leaf, who does business with the city.  The couple made news last year when they listed their Brooklyn Heights penthouse—combined from nine separate units-- for $32 million.

Kate Linker, “art critic,” gave Lander $1000.  Her husband is starchitect Bernard Tschumi, who is responsible for the Lower East Side’s Blue Condominium, which beetles over the Essex Crossing site.

Amy Glosser, “self-employed,” also gave Brad Lander $1000.  Her husband is Janno Lieber, president of Silverstein Properties’ World Trade Center development unit.

It probably scans better for Brad Lander, who describes himself as a “community organizer,” not to have a roster of the most powerful people in real estate development and lobbying at the top of his campaign filings.  So having their wives sign the checks at least provides some cover for everyone.

ITEM: Melissa Mark-Viverito is getting her budget passed very early—the earliest!—and for some reason this achievement is touted by her office as very important.  But the reason budgets notoriously don’t get signed until the last minute is because there is usually a lot of horse-trading and eyeball-gazing going on.  Getting the budget passed early simply indicates that someone wasn’t fighting very hard.

It's like if a brain surgeon bragged that he did the "fastest" surgery...ok, but are you sure you sutured everything correctly?

ITEM: Early Sunday morning we all awoke to horrible news of the Orlando massacre. Melissa Mark-Viverito’s Twitter timeline from those hours is a curious window into her thought processes.  

At 3:35 a.m. Sunday morning she posted this tweet about her favorite terrorist, Oscar Lopez Rivera:

Then at 5:09 she read about the slaughter in Florida and posted this:

Then a few minutes later, she was back in her usual form:

Ok, we all get it now, that Melissa Mark-Viverito really, really wants Oscar Lopez Rivera to get out of prison.  But does she have to step on breaking news about an unfolding terrorist attack with an appeal for the release of a convicted terrorist?  Wouldn’t it work better tonally to wait a day or two?  Seems unlikely that President Obama was going to pardon him this week anyway.

ITEM: Ruben Wills has been on medical leave for six months, but managed to make it to a street co-naming for deceased Knick Anthony Mason on Saturday.  Carrying a cane and wearing casual clothes, CM Wills certainly looks rather peaked.  Let’s see if he makes in to Chambers today to vote.

SYEP and the Budget "Process"

The FY 2017 NYC budget is near completion, well ahead of schedule.  By all accounts it will be completed this week.  Why are negotiations concluding so soon, when the council has until June 30 to get it done?

A point of distinction that the current administration has drawn repeatedly between itself and the Bloomberg/Quinn years is the transparency and efficiency of the budget process.  Under the previous administration, goes the argument, we were subjected to a “budget dance.”  The mayor would present an executive budget that called for closing firehouses or ending HASA funding, or some other egregious act.  The council in the person of Speaker Quinn would then fight valiantly for restoration of the funding, and in the end the mayor would concede defeat.  Finally the mayor and speaker would stage a wee-hours “handshake” demonstrating their exhausting labor to reach a deal.

The charade was obvious to everyone.  And to their credit, Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito swore to end the budget dance.  But they have replaced it with something that is thinner and just as manifestly false—call it the “budget lockstep.”

The new process looks like this: the mayor doesn’t bother pretending to cut anything essential.  The council calls for some new program: last year it was hiring and deploying 1000 new cops.  The mayor pretends to oppose the new spending, but gives in at the end.  The mayor and council congratulate each other.

The 1000 new cops gave Mark-Viverito the opportunity to appear independent of the mayor, and to promote an issue that cut against the grain of her anti-incarceration, decriminalization, anti-Broken Windows approach to public safety.  Sure enough, profiles appeared in the press touting the speaker’s tough contrarian stance, and Mark-Viverito was given a lever to obtain some crack of daylight between her and de Blasio.

In reality, however, the 1000 cops was a ploy.  It was always a foregone conclusion that it would happen…the same way that Bloomberg was never going to close the firehouses.

In our city’s “strong mayor” system, the mayor holds all the cards of the budget process.  Out of 83 billion dollars in the expense budget, the council is given a few hundred million to play with.  The rest is determined entirely by the mayor’s office.  The reality of the budget process is that there actually isn’t one.  But for the sake of appearances it is important to maintain the illusion that the council is deeply involved.  It would be uncharitable, therefore, if the mayor didn’t give the council the opportunity to stand up and pretend to challenge him on some media-friendly point.

This year, I predict the following: the mayor will announce that he didn’t want to fully fund the Summer Youth Employment Program.  He will say that he wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but the Council led by Melissa Mark-Viverito forced him to the wall.  Now all city youth will have the opportunity to get a government-funded job, thanks to the progressive leadership and good stewardship of the budget process by Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and the rest of the Budget Negotiating Team, etc etc.

It is important to get the budget done this week in order to maximize media coverage of the SYEP story as the school year draws to a close.  It will also give the mayor another opportunity to divert attention from his growing scandals and dismal approval ratings, by promoting another instance of a functional municipal government.

The Coming Council

In considering the run-up to the 2018 Speaker election, we have to remember that the next council will have a different composition from the current one...though not by much. Almost all of the existing councilmembers are eligible for re-election.

Here is a list of the term-limited councilmembers, along with a few notes on their likely replacements. See if you can detect any pattern.

Annabel Palma. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. is said to be interested in the job, and will probably get it. Assuming he wins, the council will have two ordained Puerto Rican evangelical ministers. (Fernando Cabrera is half Puerto Rican/half Dominican.)

Jimmy Vacca. Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj can have the council seat for the asking.

Melissa Mark-Viverito. MMV wants her deputy chief of staff Diana Ayala to succeed her but her former opponent Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez will have the inside track to win the seat.

Dan Garodnick. There is a host of contenders for the seat, and with the amount of money that will probably be raised in this race it is hard at this moment to pick a winner. Among some of the likely candidates are:

Renee Cafaro, an Ohio mall heiress who lives in the Plaza;

Keith Powers, former staffer for Jonathan Bing and currently working at Peter Vallone’s lobbying firm;

Jeff Mailman, Liz Crowley staffer; has a twin brother and a campaign website;

Marti Speranza, state committeewoman;

Bessie Schacter, state committeewoman;

**ADDITION** Mark Thompson.  Executive at powerhouse lobbyist Capalino, Thompson wanted to run in 2013 when it seemed like Garodnick was going to run for comptroller.  Thompson got Ed Koch's (!) endorsement. 

Rosie Mendez. Carlina Rivera is likely to take over this seat, with biker/pastor Rick del Rio--who challenged Mendez in 2013--putting up a fight. Rivera has worked for the Good Old Lower East Side for several years and is well regarded by local clubs and elected officials. However if Rick del Rio and Ruben Sr. both win, then there will be three Puerto Rican evangelical pastors in the council.

Inez Dickens. Dickens will probably resign from the council to take over Keith Wright’s assembly spot when he wins Charlie Rangel’s congressional seat. I don’t know enough about the current roster of likely candidates in Harlem at this point to venture a guess. However, it will probably be whomever Rangel, Wright and Dickens get behind.

Vinnie Gentile. Though Justin Brannan, straightedge punk rocker and Gentile’s staffer, and Linda Sarsour, professional self-promoter, have been frequently discussed as likely candidates to succeed Gentile after 15 years, Peter Abbate will probably resign his assembly seat to join the council.

Darlene Mealy. Henry Butler is the former chair of Brooklyn CB 3 and currently district manager. He is also President of VIDA (Vanguard Independent Democratic Association), which was Al Vann’s and Robert Cornegy’s base. Butler has a pretty good shot. Also in the running may be Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who is Latrice Walker’s chief of staff, and who ran for the seat in 2005.

That’s it. Only eight CMs are term-limited. Notice that half of their seats will probably be filled by existing state legislators. An effect of the Council’s awesome salary “reform” has been to make the seat even more attractive for party insiders who are tired of schlepping to Albany, for only half the money and double the campaigning.

The odd case of the Council’s own dangling man Ruben Wills remains to be disposed of, however. After not showing up for work so far in 2016, it is hard to imagine he is planning to run for re-election. How is it he hasn’t gone to trial yet?

But as for the other 42 CMs, it is pretty safe to say that they will all be elected again. You have to be pretty bad to lose re-election to the Council. Last time Sara Gonzalez was the only CM to be defeated, and she was egregiously bad, even by existing standards.

Speaker-wise, it is safe to assume that Gjonaj and Diaz will both go along with whatever Bronx County boss Crespo decides. Similarly, the probable Brooklyn CMs will stand with Seddio. Manhattan is always a mixed bag when it comes to blocs. The Progressive Caucus is seeking to add a member or two to its eroding coalition, but the winds may be blowing the other way. Rosie Mendez never joined up, so why should Carlina Rivera? Robert Rodriguez is no MMV ally, and already has his own alliances in Albany. A Dickens/Wright proxy is not going to throw in with the Progs either.

So if things shake out as they did last time, with Bronx/Queens versus Brooklyn/Progs, then the independent votes of Manhattan could play an important role. Keep posted to City Council Watch for more detailed analysis.

ITEM: Which Astoria councilman received a $2500 contribution from Solomon Rubin, the CEO of the Allure Group, which made $72 million on the Rivington House deal? Costa Constantinides ducked repeated questions about how he knew Rubin, or why he got the contribution. The CM’s aide informed City Council Watch that he was returning the money…though the CFB shows no refund date on the item.

ITEM: Over Memorial Day weekend Melissa Mark-Viverito tweeted multiple times that it was the anniversary of the arrest of her hero Oscar Lopez Rivera…who is, after all, in prison for his involvement in bombing plots that killed people in New York City. Then on Memorial Day itself she put out a tone-deaf statement about veterans, as though she doesn’t get the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

ITEM: When Bill de Blasio says “I think investigations are unfortunately, in modern American public life, they are part of the [inaudible] now. You can basically assume there will be investigations,” does he understand that the only other people who talk about criminal investigations as part of the job description, are criminals?


Tensions Rising: Speaker's Race Mentioned in Chambers

There was an oddly tense moment at yesterday's executive budget hearing. David Greenfield had just finished a thunderous stemwinder on F express service to the MTA reps, and then Finance chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland turned the questioning over to Corey Johnson.

Johnson opened with a crack about Greenfield’s passion for speechifying about F train service and the plastic bag fee. The remark sounded harmless enough, given that CMs frequently tease each other in their clubby way. But Greenfield seemed annoyed: “Why don’t you talk about the Speaker’s race instead?” he retorted to Johnson (words to that effect; the video isn’t up yet.)

Usually CMs are pretty good about keeping up a solid front. Based on their public statements, for example, you would never know that the race to succeed Melissa Mark-Viverito is the primary obsessive question dominating their private conversations. So it is odd to hear someone as canny and careful as David Greenfield break the façade and reference the Speaker’s race on the public record, 19 months ahead of time, with the two leading candidates for the job (Johnson and Ferreras-Copeland) sitting right there.

So what’s happening? Basically one has to appreciate David Greenfield’s role in the Brooklyn delegation and his close relationship to Kings County boss Frank Seddio. Recall what happened in 2014: Seddio, encouraged by the new mayor, broke with Joe Crowley and Carl Heastie of Queens and the Bronx, and threw his votes with the Progressive Bloc. The Bloc, which was in theory supposed to have an internal vote to pick a candidate, was informed by Brad Lander that they had to coalesce behind MMV immediately or lose their chance to pick the speaker. The Bloc’s 16 or 17 votes plus Seddio’s 7 or 8 pushed MMV close enough to 26 to draw the unaligned CMs over, and that was it.

Greenfield got Land Use out of the deal; Gentile was given a committee at long last; and the new speaker made up some posts for the rest of the delegation. But really, what did Seddio’s organization get out of the deal? Not much. “Frank is not happy,” said one non-Brooklyn CM. “He was supposed to get City Hall jobs for some of his people, but the mayor gave all the Brooklyn jobs to Park Slope allies.”

So what does that mean for Greenfield? Let’s look at the candidacy of Julissa Ferreras-Copeland. She is the mayor’s choice for speaker. Melissa Mark-Viverito also wants JFC for the role. By all accounts Brad Lander is trying to get the Progressive Caucus to agree to remain united—which is weird because at least 4 members of the Caucus are at least nominally running for speaker—and he also wants JFC. JFC’s path to victory is a repeat of 2014. She is not close to the Queens Dems—her entire career from Hiram Monserrate until now has been based on being an insurgent WFP candidate. She will need de Blasio and the Progressives to convince Seddio to throw in with them, and then to pick up some stray undecided votes.

So what’s wrong with this picture? First of all, the members of the Progressive Caucus are resistant to Brad Lander’s demands for them to swear a death pact of loyalty that will essentially make him a kingmaker. (One non-Progressive CM even told me that Lander is hoping to become Speaker himself. “Look what happened to Brad when he helped Melissa,” the CM said. “She got annoyed when people started calling him the ‘shadow speaker,’ and pushed him to the side. So why would he do the same thing again, this time with Melissa’s close ally Julissa?” I find the logic here unassailable—if we were not talking about someone with the overweening pride of Brad Lander. I think Lander imagines that he has a better relationship with JFC than he did with MMV, and that he will take on a more significant leadership role in the next Council if she is speaker.) So it is not clear that the Progressives will be a bloc next time—indeed there are already indications that the Caucus, which was really formed to make MMV speaker and support de Blasio’s mayoral candidacy, has lost its motive force and is substantially weaker now.

But they aren’t the only ones who are weaker now. Mayor de Blasio has a great deal of trouble, and no longer is overflowing with excess political capital. Andrew Cuomo has waged a scorched earth policy against de Blasio and successfully wrong-footed him at every turn. De Blasio blew his endorsement of Hillary Clinton by trying to induce her to woo him. He could conceivably be indicted by mighty Preet. Powerful unions have deserted the WFP. So the chance that de Blasio will be able to call up a county boss and put the squeeze on to get his favorite councilmember the speakership grows increasingly less likely.

At the same time, Corey Johnson has become the Sammy Glick of the council—pushy, arrogant, thirsty and slick. “He is very aggressively courting voters,” grumbled one CM several months ago. “It is because of him that the race for speaker has become so heated this early.” Another CM told me that “Corey is rapidly becoming the most unpopular member of the council,” while nevertheless acknowledging that Johnson is certainly a serious candidate.

So on one side we see David Greenfield, whose faction controls between 7 and 9 votes, but whose authority to elect the speaker is diminished from last time. At stake for Greenfield is his powerful chairmanship, as well as goodies for the Brooklyn delegation. But his power—like that of Brad Lander—depends on quiet waters in the council. Similarly, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland has been playing a kind of Rose Garden strategy, and hasn’t been actively campaigning amongst her colleagues: her plan is to have de Blasio make her the speaker. Johnson has set the cat among the pigeons: by campaigning early and often he has forced the issue into the open well before it would have otherwise arisen.

So that explains why David Greenfield snapped at him today. He would prefer all this to be dealt with over a year from now.

But I don’t want you to think that this explanation above summarizes the entire race! There are at least two or three other candidates who have a plausible shot at becoming speaker. It is true that Julissa and Corey are the current frontrunners…but a lot can happen in a year and a half.


--What happens if Hillary wins and appoints MMV to run that office of immigrant affairs she mentioned? Then the existing Council will have to vote for an interim speaker!

--Who will fill the seats of the eight term-limited CMs? (Vacca, Palma, Mendez, Garodnick, Dickens [who may leave early anyway if Keith Wright wins], MMV, Mealy, Gentile) And how will that affect the Speaker’s race? (Also Ruben Wills, who hasn’t shown up for work in months.)

--Who’s in third place? We still have to talk about Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Jimmy van Bramer, Vanessa Gibson, Robert Cornegy, Jumaane Williams…and maybe Donovan Richards?

Bill de Blasio's Slave Name

Having lost his fight to get rid of carriage horses, Mayor de Blasio has decided to join the winning side and embrace other 19th century modes of transportation: hence the city will spend billions on ferries and streetcars.

Both of these ideas appear to be aimed at satisfying the vision of the Walentas brothers (Two Trees), the Elghanayan brothers (TF Cornerstone), Toll Brothers (Toll Brothers), and any other donors—siblings or not--to his now defunct nonprofit who own real estate developments along the waterfront. 

Washington D.C.—admittedly not a city that anyone looks to as a model of municipal management—recently opened streetcar service ten years after having bought the cars and laid the tracks.  The streetcar line, which runs 2.2 miles, is apparently a disaster of sorts, and can be outpaced by a brisk pedestrian.

Atlanta, Dallas, and Kansas City are among other cities that have installed streetcars in the last ten years.  Most of these experiments are basically novelties: urban planners love streetcars and appear to have convinced local politicians that streetcar lines will invigorate ghastly downtowns. 

New York’s streetcar will ostensibly be funded by a TIF on all the future waterfront development, which is fine if it works out.  But what exactly do streetcars do that buses don’t?  Buses don’t require massive capital commitments for installing miles of tracks and the development of special rolling stock to run on them.  Buses can run flexible routes and go around stalled cars.

The problem with buses however is that they aren’t very attractive to the sort of people for whom all that luxury construction is meant.  Where streetcars have a nouveau-vintage appeal, buses smack of old people and poor people.  Shuffling, talkative types.  Cantankerous guys in plastic jackets that say METS.  No one wants to leave his or her 3 million dollar waterfront loft and say, “I hope the bus is on time.”

The ferry proposal is utterly nonsensical, however.  The city had an extensive ferry system for hundreds of years…and then they built the Brooklyn Bridge.  Ferries died for a reason: they are expensive and inefficient, and can’t run when there is ice in the water.  After Superstorm Sandy the city opened up ferry service from Rockaway to Manhattan, and had to cancel it after two years because the subsidies were ridiculous: the city was paying $30 per passenger per ride.

Also, ferries suffer from the perennial “last mile” problem with new transit solutions.  Most people don’t live or work right by the water, and there aren’t very many subway or bus stops right by the water, either.  So commuters wind up with lengthy pedestrian journeys at either end of the ferry trip.

The ferry system will be an expensive, heavily subsidized and underutilized boondoggle.


By the way, the mayor reached a new low in sanctimonious, pandering bullshit this weekend in Harlem.  Speaking about why he changed his name, de Blasio cited “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” as an inspiration.  Malcolm X rejected his birth name as “not really his name,” and similarly de Blasio decided that his slave name “Warren Wilhelm, Jr.” wasn’t right for him either.  His new name “was [his] true self.”

The fact that he changed his name 25 years after he first read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” while in the middle of his first run for elected office, shouldn’t make you think that there were any political implications to his choice.

Incidentally, why does the mayor constantly throw his father under the proverbial streetcar wheels?  “I honor my father for all he did for his country and all the good in him, but I only unfortunately got to see the bad,” he said at the First Corinthian Baptist Church.  A few years ago he told the Times that from his father, "I learned what not to do."

Obviously de Blasio must resent his father for killing himself, but he should save it for his therapist’s office, just for the sake of manners.  The guy fought in World War Two and lost a leg, and his son grows up and just constantly heaps scorn on his memory.  With that kind of gratitude, it isn’t surprising that de Blasio hemmed and hawed about endorsing his former boss Hillary Clinton.  




Ethno-lunacy at the City Council

At the pre-stated press conference yesterday Speaker Mark-Viverito was asked about Donald Trump’s recent successes, particularly his strong showing among Hispanics in Nevada’s GOP primary. Mark-Viverito corrected the questioner: “Don’t you mean Bernie Sanders’ support among Latinos?”

No, the reporter averred: Trump did well specifically among Latinos. MMV dismissed the idea as ludicrous, saying that at most “150” Latinos voted for him. “There are barely any Latino Republicans in Nevada anyway.”

Maybe if the speaker were more on top of Nevada’s political realities she wouldn’t have been removed last September from the fundraising committee of the state’s US Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto, who wants to replace Harry Reid. You may recall that Cortez Masto cut ties with MMV because of her avowed support for Puerto Rican terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera.

The fact is that about 9% of the GOP Nevada caucus turnout was Hispanic, and about 40% of Hispanic voters went for Trump. Given GOP turnout was around 75,000, that leaves us with at least 2,700 Latino Trump supporters out of 6,750: not millions, but not 150 either. Given that the Speaker won her 2013 primary with less than 36% of the vote, it isn't really her place to minimize other people's electoral margins.

The secret about Latino voters in the United States is that immigration reform is not actually of great importance to them. To listen to Melissa Mark-Viverito and her cronies, one would think that the nation’s Hispanics are united in one voice demanding amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, but it isn’t true. In this Gallup poll, immigration reform is 5th out of 6 in importance; this Pew Research study shows immigration is last in issues of “extreme importance” to registered Latino voters.

If the Speaker were to emerge from her bubble of Puerto Rican nationalism and Vasconcelosista-style supremacism, maybe she would discover that Latinos in America are more closely aligned with the political mainstream than she is.

Inez Barron gave one of her mini-lectures to the Council yesterday, on the topic of Black History Month. African-American history, according to CM Barron (no relation to your correspondent) “predates Columbus.” As a source, she recommended Ivan van Sertima’s notoriously unscholarly and tendentious work, They Came before Columbus.

This book, which has been thoroughly debunked (when it isn’t being ignored) by actual scholars of pre-Columbian history, posits (basically) that Mesoamerican civilization was built by Mandinka and Nubian émigrés to America about 30 centuries ago. Key evidences—cited by CM Barron—are the giant Olmec heads of Mexico, of which, she told the Council, “the features are distinctly African.”

If looking at ancient statues and imputing to them racial physiometrics sounds a little recherché to you, well you are not alone. As a historiographical tool, it is useless. The entire thesis of African diffusionism to America has no basis in reality. They Came before Columbus belongs to a genre of wacky Cold War-era pseudoscience that includes Holy Blood, Holy Grail; In Search of Noah’s Ark; Worlds in Collision; and The Late, Great Planet Earth, to name a few exemplars.

This isn’t the first time Inez Barron has taken time during a stated Council meeting to go off on one of her weird tangents: recall two years ago when she sang a hymn to the African “bloodline.” One supposes this is her hobby-horse, the way some people are train enthusiasts, or keep canaries. Couldn’t she save it for the weekends, though?

I asked CM Carlos Menchaca, who is Mexican-American, what he thought of Barron’s revisionist version of pre-Columbian history. After all, many critics have pointed out that van Sertima’s thesis is just another form of racist cultural appropriation, this time erasing native Mesoamerican accomplishment in favor of a narrative of African dominance. Menchaca looked at me like I was an unspeakable asshole, and condescendingly said, “I support all histories here at the City Council.” All “histories,” including pseudo-history, are welcome at the circus, I guess.

Salary Follies

It was a bad week for Bill de Blasio and Melissa Mark-Viverito.  The mayor’s trip to Iowa appears to have been a depressing waste of time…the images of him and Chirlane walking down empty streets in their jeans while consulting voter lists could be a 21st century “American Gothic.”  The Iowans have just gone through months of exposure to all sorts of political celebrities, so what made de Blasio imagine that he was going to heat up the scene?  His supposedly brilliant handlers seem to have a tenuous grip on political realities and their boss's hinterland appeal.

Speaker Mark-Viverito is trying to cram the ridiculous horse carriage bill and salary increase into one hugger-mugger Friday session, the classic time to release bad news.  She is coming off as a complete tool of the mayor, and the rest of the council is being played as a bunch of pawns given a milksop to stifle their cries.

Regarding the pay increase: I’ve sat through hundreds of hours of Council hearings but nothing I’ve ever seen rivaled yesterday’s hearing for pure comedy.  The combination of self-pity, fulsome praise, and absurd justifications made for a true circus. 

I’m not going to rehearse all the politics and arguments behind the raise, because everyone knows them, and it is all but done.  Here is a link to an article I wrote for City Journal if you want to see my opinion.

I just want to relate some of the high points of the hearing…the choicest parts.  I wanted to include time-stamps so you could fast-forward to the most hilarious moments, but the Council hasn’t gotten the video up yet, so I am just going to cite from my notes.  The quotes aren’t verbatim, but they definitely express the gist.

--Ydanis Rodriguez, during the first round of questions, took up his entire allotment yelling at Fritz Schwartz, who headed the Pay Commission.  He explained that he loves his job, that he supports the 99%, but that he has to work so hard.  He works 60 hours a week!  He has to go to community meetings.  People talk to him in restaurants.  He believes that CMs deserve at least $175,000 per year.

Rodriguez kept coming back to the question of half-time versus full-time.  He demanded to know what constitutes full-time, because he puts in so many more hours than that.

It became sadly clear that Ydanis Rodriguez thinks that “full-time” means you work 40 hours and then you go home.  If you work more than that, then you deserve overtime.  Could it be that he doesn’t understand the difference between an hourly and a salaried employee?  Also, does he think that 60 hours a week is an unusual amount of work for a well-paid professional in New York?  I know plenty of people who put in those kinds of hours…including Council staffers who make like $30k.

As a former staffer for a council member and a longtime Watcher, I have a pretty good idea of what members do.  I am curious if Rodriguez counts the following activities when he adds up his hours: attending press conferences for civic groups, or to “save” El Diario; going to meetings of the Progressive Caucus; going to meetings of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus; going to meetings of the Democratic Caucus; going to meetings of the Manhattan delegation; getting plaques from local organizations; going to ribbon-cutting ceremonies; talking to other electeds; running for Speaker; sending out weather bulletins or press releases condemning a vicious criminal, etc. etc.

Rodriguez also claimed that some CMs “have Ph.Ds.”  Is this true?  I’ve never heard that.  Unless he is thinking about Eva Moskowitz.

--Inez Dickens was mad that no one is taking into account all the groceries and funerals she pays for, for her needy constituents.  She said that unlike other elected officials, CMs “are on the streets!”  

--Ben Kallos also said that CMs never have time off.  “If it is Christmas Eve and you are locking up your district office, and a resident comes by because he is being evicted, well there is no Christmas Eve dinner for you.”  He contrasted this to citywide elected officials who supposedly don’t have to deal with constituents’ needs.  Somehow he insinuated that he works harder than Michael Bloomberg ever did, which seems like a weird thing to say given Bloomberg’s reputation for total workaholicism.  (Bloomberg once said, "I have nothing in common with people who stand on escalators.")  Fritz Schwartz said that, when he was Corporation Counsel, he saw Bloomberg work quite a bit.  Kallos sneered, “Um, I don’t weekend in Bermuda.”

--Jumaane Williams is insulted that lowly commissioners and deputy commissioners often make more than he does.  Why should a staffperson make more money than an exalted elected official?  It was pointed out that some deputy commissioners run billion dollar departments and have hundreds of people reporting to them; Williams was nonplussed at this, and seemed to want to say, “So do I!”  But of course, he doesn’t.  

--Brad Lander repeated his glib refrain that “It is easy to be cynical” about council members’ pay.  It is especially easy to be cynical about it when one is given so much material for cynicism.

Amazingly enough, Lander will not even be present on Friday to vote on the bill.  How come?  He is going on vacation that day.  Sure, just taking off a few days in February when he thought the hearing calendar was clear, two weeks before the whole Council goes on its unofficial mid-Winter break.  Doesn’t everybody do that?

What f---ing gall.

I really believe that what the Council needs to do instead of forbidding outside employment, is to require its members to get outside employment, even if it is just ten hours a week bagging groceries or babysitting someone else's child.  It would teach them the value of a dollar and instill a good work ethic.  I'm no hypocrite: I tell the same thing to my teenaged daughters. 

On the bright side, Inez Barron came off as genuinely concerned for the fact that council staffers never or rarely get raises.  She came back to this point several times, and did not say one thing about how backbreakingly hard her job is.  

Ben Kallos' Self-Righteous Charade at Health Hearing

The Health Committee held a hearing the other day to discuss a bill that would regulate the nutritional content of kids’ meals that come with an “incentive.” Basically, McDonald’s Happy Meals are the target, though the law would apply to all restaurants.

Ben Kallos is the sponsor of the bill, and Corey Johnson (chair of Health) is a co-sponsor. The administration testified in opposition to the measure, and said it would be impossible to carry out, because most restaurants in the city are not chains, and don’t have to track their specific caloric and fat content. Also, what constitutes an incentive? How about a placemat for kids to color on while they wait for their meals?

Things got fun when a representative from McDonald’s testified. Dr. Cynthia Goody is the chief nutritionist for McDonald’s, and naturally enough, also testified against the measure. She explained that McDonald’s has changed its advertising practices and no longer promotes soda as a choice for its kids’ meals, though it is still available. She detailed additions to the menu that McDonald’s has made, in order to offer children better alternatives in the way of fruit and fat-free milk, etc. The basic takeaway if you read between the lines was that if they made Happy Meals any healthier (low fat, low sugar, whole-grains) then no one would get them, and people would just order for their kids from the regular menu. Pretty much what you expect: no one is forced to go to McDonald’s, and no one who goes there is under the illusion that they are eating health food.

Corey Johnson asked Dr. Goody some basic questions and pushed back on her statements in a normal way. Then he turned the questioning over to Ben Kallos, who instantly began grilling the panel (which also included some small business C-of-C types) in the most excruciatingly hostile terms imaginable.

“Do you receive money from McDonald’s or its franchisees?” he asked. “Do you support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour?”

Dr. Goody was nonplussed, and said that as a nutritionist she didn’t have any expertise on the question of wages. Kallos pressed her: “As a nutritionist do you think people who make $15 an hour instead of eight, nine or ten dollars an hour will have more money to spend on healthy food?”

Kallos ripped into Goody’s use of an anodyne motto: “What about health programming? There was specific testimony on point saying…’if you eat, move your feet,’ so what is McDonald’s doing in local communities to help give local children a place other than McDonald’s to congregate?” As though, in addition to having a monopoly on food service in New York City, McDonald’s also owns the Parks Department.

He then asked about McDonald’s lobbying efforts and expenditures, and demanded that someone explain why McDonald’s had spent more than $500,000 over five years lobbying the city. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” replied Goody. “I’m a nutritionist and I am here to talk about the bill.”

Kallos was undeterred, and insisted that he needed to know why McDonald’s was lobbying against the bill when Burger King and Wendy’s aren’t. He needed to know why McDonald’s spends so much on lobbying generally, and also demanded to know how much McDonald’s spends on advertising in the New York City market. Again, the nutritionist said she didn’t know anything about that.

Kallos asked, “Who else is here from McDonald’s?” He ordered Dr. Goody to tell him the names and titles of her colleagues, and then asked one of them to come forward to answer specific questions about McDonald’s ad budget and marketing strategies. The man brushed it off, stating that he isn’t authorized to speak publically on such matters. Kallos pompously announced, “so let the record show” that McDonald’s was not answering his questions.

The questioning went on like this for another ten minutes, with Kallos asking a wide range of answerless questions of a private corporate witness who was giving voluntary testimony. He was relentlessly sarcastic, and hectored the nutritionist about some program called “Kids LiveWell” that Wendy’s has signed onto, until Johnson whispered to him to move on.

Sorry for belaboring the point here: the Council has no oversight over McDonald’s. The witnesses were taking the same position as the administration in opposing the bill. None of the McDonald’s witnesses had been sworn in. Ben Kallos does not have subpoena power over McDonald’s, and had not summoned its representatives before him while he conducted a wide-ranging plenary investigation of the restaurant’s activities. He was just abusing a nutritionist and pointlessly grandstanding, as though he were Robert F. Kennedy yelling at Jimmy Hoffa at the McClellan Senate hearings. At one point he even said, “the whole world is watching.”

We see this kind of grandiosity in hearings on occasion. Sometimes councilmembers get confused or carried away and forget that they are only allowed to berate and insult members of the administration. Even that is embarrassing when it happens, but when councilmembers start harassing members of the public, it is like watching a dog chase a car: it wouldn’t know what to do if it caught it.

What Really Matters: Who's Running for Speaker?

As the Council gets into the second half of its current term, debate is heating up among the Members.  So what is the big issue now?  Is it decriminalization of petty crime?  Is it economic inequality?  The schools?  Affordable housing?  Banning carbon emissions?

If you imagine that any of these matters is foremost on councilmembers’ minds, you haven’t been paying attention to the low level of backbiting and petty squabbling that defines our (almost) one-party unicameral legislative body.  The primary focus and main gossip of the city council now is: Who will be elected Speaker in January 2018?

When Mayor-elect de Blasio shoehorned Melissa Mark-Viverito into the Speakership, he did so fully cognizant that she would serve as a lame duck.  Term-limited, MMV was handicapped from the start from wielding total fear-inducing authority over the Council in the style of Archduke Chris Quinn.  In promoting his loyal comrade and ally Mark-Viverito, de Blasio ensured that he would have a consistent rubber-stamp at his disposal, and that he would still be able to put the squeeze on individual councilmembers who knew that he would almost certainly be around longer than she would.

So while MMV still has the power of the Speaker’s pot of discretionary money to spread around, her authority over the Council remains largely as the Mayor’s cat’s paw.  No one has yet adduced any significant moment of difference or conflict between Mark-Viverito and de Blasio, and I do not accept that the 1300 extra cops was anything but a bit of theater.  She wants to write an amicus brief in support of building a mall in Queens, after he's moved on from that fight?  Please. 

Everyone, then, is looking to the future.  Who are the players in the next race for the Speakership?

Here is a list of candidates, in geographical order: Vanessa Gibson, Ydanis Rodriguez, Mark Levine, Corey Johnson, Jimmy van Bramer, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams and Robert Cornegy.  If you think I have erred, please say so.

By all accounts, the Mayor (along with MMV) favors Julissa Ferreras, who is an old-time loyalist and partner from the 2009 WFP/DFS days.  She was made the chair of Finance because it was known that she would fit pliably into the Mark-Viverito/de Blasio sphere as a good soldier and ally.  Brad Lander is keeping himself busy these days trying to shore up support for JFC, and is tinkering with the engine of the Progressive Caucus, getting it tuned up for another run.  The PC was originated as a vehicle to bring MMV into power, so why not go for a repeat?

The hitch this time is that the bloom is off the de Blasio rose, at least somewhat and so far.  In 2013/14 the Mayor was fresh off his big win, and he was able to reach out to individual Brooklyn members to persuade them to get on board with his plan for a unified City Hall.  Between the Progressive Bloc and a few Kings County defectors, de Blasio was able to shift the balance enough for boss Frank Seddio to see where things were heading and to leave Queens Dem chief Joe Crowley in the lurch.

It helped that MMV was from Manhattan.  The Brooklyn machine doesn’t want a Bronx or Queens Speaker, and vice-versa.  Manhattan has served as the compromise borough for the Speakership for twenty years, and this arrangement has provided checks and balances on the power of the county machinery.

The issue with Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is less that she is from Queens, however, than that she is at odds with the Queens County machine.  She and her onetime mentor Hiram Monserrate ran as insurgents, and she has never really played along with Crowley or the party organization.  Rumors abound that she is seeking a primary challenger to her onetime Council opponent and Queens County Dem regular Assemblyman Francisco Moya, which if true will not salve many open wounds in Corona.

Maybe de Blasio will do the same thing he did last time, and use his Brooklyn influence to install his chosen Speaker.  Brad Lander is trying to get the members of the Progressive Caucus to vow to align themselves as a Spartan bloc, so with those votes and Brooklyn, the rest of Queens and the Bronx could be again discounted entirely.

Except one thing is very, very different in New York politics now: Carl Heastie is in charge of the State Assembly.  When Sheldon Silver was Assembly Speaker, he made a point of not involving himself in the internal politics of the Council.  But with Heastie as Speaker and de facto Bronx County boss, de Blasio will be less able to ignore the close team of Heastie/Crowley and get his own way in the Council.  With Cuomo and de Blasio still in a blood feud, the mayor desperately needs a friend in Albany if he wants to get anything done in Term Two.  And that could include letting the Queens and Bronx machines pick the Council Speaker.

Next time: the other candidates.