In one of his first initiatives as mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio strong-armed his ideological ally Melissa Mark-Viverito into the office of city-council speaker. In that role, she may be the second most powerful official in the city: Proposed legislation will pass through her office and she will set the agenda of the city council.
And her election has some observers worried. Council speakers traditionally represent the independent voice of the legislature, and they can, when necessary, act as a check on the mayor’s power. But, in many ways, Mark-Viverito — propelled into the office in large measure by de Blasio’s lobbying — is a progressive in the same mold as the new mayor.
De Blasio centered his election campaign on a tale-of-two-cities narrative: that there was a rich New York and a poor and exploited New York, the latter of which needs more government aid to succeed. The greatest danger facing the city was the mere existence of inequalities, which “threaten to unravel the city we love,” as de Blasio said in his inaugural address. A New York Times article in December said that, in Mark-Viverito, de Blasio has found “a legislative partner whose outspokenness against inequality matches, if it does not sometimes exceed, his own.”
Councilwoman Mark-Viverito — who serves the city’s eighth district, covering northeastern Manhattan and some of the South Bronx — has been described by some colleagues as too liberal and too abrasive. She helped found and now co-chairs the Progressive Caucus of the city council — the farthest-left group in the legislature — and, with the Progressive Caucus, has advocated for the expansion of prevailing-wage requirements, the raising of the minimum wage, and higher taxes on the wealthy.
She was also an active participant in the Occupy Wall Street movement, which she said “inspired” her. “We are the 99 percent,” she said at an Occupy rally in November 2011. “We represent the 99 percent. We are representing people that have been impacted by the corporate greed, by the 1 percent.”
Mark-Viverito’s strong ties with Occupy extended beyond speaking at its rallies; she was once arrested for blocking a street during an Occupy protest against income inequality. “I was more than happy to participate in this action,” she said of her arrest. “Government needs to respond to the immediate crisis that we have, which is an economic crisis and inequality crisis in terms of how government is structured.”
Mark-Viverito’s purist commitment to expanded government and the state-led eradication of inequality has even led her to call New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, a turncoat. “When it comes to economic issues, I see [Cuomo], more unfortunately to say, as a Republican,” Mark-Viverito said in an October 2011 interview with local radio host Roberto Perez.
In his three years in office, Cuomo, a lifelong Democrat, has been a mixed bag for the far left. Though he pleased progressives by, for example, raising taxes on the wealthy and, like de Blasio, supporting universal pre-K (though he has not indicated support for higher taxes to fund the program, as de Blasio has), Cuomo probably earned Mark-Viverito’s ire by reining in public-pension spending, closing the state deficit, and, more recently, calling for tax cuts.
Mark-Viverito added, in her interview with Perez: “You know, I don’t see much difference in the positions that he’s taking than a Scott Walker, you know, in Wisconsin, where he’s asking the unions to continue to negotiate and to give up their benefits, to really roll that back in terms of affecting pensions.”
Mark-Viverito did not respond to NRO’s requests for an interview.
Mark-Viverito boasts support from labor unions and the same ACORN offshoots that have been close to de Blasio. Both de Blasio and Mark-Viverito were supported by the union-backed Working Families party, created by former ACORN head Bertha Lewis. Each was also endorsed by ACORN’s direct offspring in New York, New York Communities for Change.
With only three Republicans in a city council of 51 members, New York City is divided more between moderate Democrats and progressive Democrats than it is between Right and Left. With Mark-Viverito’s election to the speakership, solidifying the progressive leadership of the city, New York has tilted even further left.
— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.