Under Caribbean skies, New York power brokers shape crucial race

ISLA VERDE BEACH, PR — The candidates openly wooed allies by lavish hotel pools. They organized unmissable parties, sometimes at exactly the same time.

Party insiders have updated spreadsheets to track new supporter pledges.

The fierce battle to become the next New York City Council Speaker won’t be officially decided until January, when all 51 members of the Council cast their votes. But it was in full bloom last week at the tropical political rally known as Somos.

The winner will assume the second-most powerful job in city government, a vital companion role to mayor-elect Eric Adams, who takes office in January. Mr Adams, a centrist Democrat, has said he wants to be a mayor ‘to get things done’, and the next speaker could help him pass his agenda, erect roadblocks or try to push him towards the end. left.

With seven known candidates for the speaker, the race has already begun for alliances and votes, and this work has been exhibited in Puerto Rico, where discussions of possible approvals are known to depend on committee assignments and even office space .

Keith Powers, a Manhattan alderman who introduces himself as a speaker, posted a selfie on Twitter from the beach with Joe Borelli, a Republican congressman from Staten Island whose party is likely to control at least four seats. Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President and former alderman who was just re-elected to Council, held meeting after meeting at a table outside the Sonesta Hotel.

“It’s organized chaos,” said Justin Brannan, a Brooklyn councilman who is also seeking the job. “You have the whole political class of New York together, so it’s a lot of gossip and a lot of conversation, and it’s economical because we’re all in one place.”

Mr. Brannan, a former punk rock guitarist, was considered a favorite. Then came a surprise on election night: he trailed his Republican opponent by 255 votes. He spent most of the trip reassuring attendees that he would win once the mail-in ballots were counted.

In a hotel lobby on Thursday, Mr. Brannan spotted Henry Garrido, the head of District Council 37, New York’s largest public workers union, and Mark Levine, the new Manhattan borough president. They were discussing the speaker race, and Mr. Brannan quickly chimed in.

“We have the votes,” he told them. “Everything is fine.”

At a union event with the mayor-elect two days later, Mr. Garrido said Mr. Brannan might survive, but his tight race in southwest Brooklyn had shifted the race’s ‘plate tectonics’ .

“There was a renewed sense of electing a woman and a woman of color,” Mr. Garrido said.

Indeed, in a crowded speakeasy inside a beachfront hotel, Carlina Rivera celebrated her re-election at her Lower Manhattan headquarters, noting that she had won “overwhelmingly in a landslide.” – a phrase that some participants saw as a swipe at Mr. Brannan.

Less than a mile away, East Harlem Councilmember Diana Ayala hosted an outdoor party surrounded by palm trees and highlighted her story as a single mother who once lived in the shelter system.

“Hope you brought your dancing shoes!” Ms Ayala said as the crowd went upstairs to listen to live music.

The new members of the city council made sure to attend both games – to weigh their options and not upset a possible favorite by not showing up.

The competitive race for speakers has been the main topic of gossip at the annual Somos conference, where elected officials, lobbyists and union leaders meet to socialize and strike deals. Mr Adams told reporters he was not getting involved in the race – although it might be hard for him to resist.

The city council will have its first-ever female majority – with women to take 31 of 51 seats – and it is decidedly young and diverse. Members are expected to choose the next speaker by the end of December, and few are publicly endorsing anyone at this point.

“The big open question is whether Mayor-elect Adams will get involved, and if he does, I think that would be a defining one in a lot of ways,” said Corey Johnson, the current Council Speaker, who will step down. office due to term limits. “But I think he keeps his powder dry and lets the race go and see if the outside players are going to move. It feels a bit like a waiting game right now.

Ms Rivera, a former community organizer who focused on issues like sexual harassment, had to counter the perception that Mr. Adams does not favor her For the job. She did not endorse Mr. Adams in the Democratic mayoral primary, unlike Mr. Brannan and Francisco Moya, a member of Queens who is also running for president.

“Welcome to Puerto Rico Mr. Mayor!” Ms Rivera posted on Twitter of Somos with a photo of her smiling with Mr. Adams.

A coalition of five unions, including those representing nurses and hospitality workers, also dominate the race, having spent lavishly to help elect many members. The coalition, known as Labor Strong 2021, has yet to choose a candidate.

Several power brokers have indicated their preferences: Ms. Rivera is supported by Representative Nydia M. Velázquez; Ms. Ayala is supported by Representative Adriano Espaillat; Rep. Gregory Meeks, the Queens party leader, favors Adrienne Adams, a Queens councilwoman who is close to Mr. Adams and wants to be the city’s first black speaker.

Mr Johnson won the job in 2018 largely on the backing of Mr Meeks’ predecessor in Queens, Joseph Crowley, the powerful congressman who was ousted in the Democratic primary by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez later that year -the.

The setting in Puerto Rico also drew attention to a recent push for a Latino speaker. Ms. Ayala was born in Puerto Rico, Ms. Rivera is of Puerto Rican descent, and Mr. Moya is of Ecuadorian descent.

The race is less about ideology and more about the relationships candidates have built with their colleagues and the support they have offered new members in their bid to get elected. Many of the candidates are not politically distant: Ms. Adams, Ms. Ayala, Mr. Brannan, Mr. Powers and Ms. Rivera are all part of the council’s progressive caucus.

Borelli, who is likely to be the next Republican minority leader on the council, said he got along well with several presidential candidates even though they had different policies.

“I disagree with them on a lot of things, but it’s nice to have the luxury of telling them face to face how I feel,” he said.

Mr. Moya, who played football with Mr. Borelli when they worked together at Albany, kept a relentless schedule at Somos, pointing to his ties to Mr. Adams and arguing that he was the only candidate with a “record working through politics”. spectrum.”

“I haven’t even seen the beach to be honest with you,” he said.

Luis Ferré-Sadurní contributed reporting.