A Brooklyn councilman is running to become the next Speaker — but says his campaign is more about being heard.
Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush) jumped into the crowded race to replace term-limited Speaker Christine Quinn (D–Manhattan) on Nov. 19 — but he told this paper his main aim is to draw attention to his concerns about housing, policing, and education.
“I’m running to become Speaker, but I definitely want to be sure we’re talking about some of the issues I think are important,” said Williams. “I’m hoping some of the ideas that I have are part of the larger conversation.”
Williams said he wanted to see the Council become more progressive, following the lead of Mayor-elect Bill DeBlasio and Public Advocate-elect Tish James. He called for the Council to wrest control of housing law from the state, for law-enforcement policies that incorporate community groups and the Department of Mental Health, to improve conditions in public housing, and to share control of the school system with the mayor. The first-term councilman warned that progressives can’t afford to squander the political moment.
“If we fail this time, it will be generations before we get another chance,” Williams told the audience at a Tuesday night Speaker candidate forum at Borough Hall.
Williams — first elected in 2009 — is the lone Brooklyn contender in the leadership race. He joins Councilwoman Inez Dickens (D–Manhattan), Councilman Dan Garodnick (D–Manhattan), Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D–Manhattan), Councilman Jimmy Vacca (D–Bronx), Councilwoman Annabel Palma (D–Bronx), and Councilman Mark Weprin (D–Queens).
Before Williams jumped into the race, leading Democratic strategist and lobbyist Hank Sheinkopf told this paper that the borough was better off with no horse in the race, because a Brooklynite seeking the office would cause infighting within a delegation divided between conservative and progressive factions. Sheinkopf said that without their own candidate to squabble over, Kings County’s reps could unite as a bloc behind a candidate from another borough — and reap rewards in the form of committee chairmanships the Speaker would then hand out.
But Sheinkopf said that Williams’s bid for Speaker does not impact Brooklyn’s standing, since Williams was never expected to vote with the larger delegation. He argued that Williams’s candidacy most damages frontrunner Mark-Viverito, as they both belong to the Council’s ultra-liberal Progressive Caucus, which Mark-Viverito co-chairs with Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope).
“This creates problems for Mark-Viverito,” said Sheinkopf.
Sheinkopf added that Williams could use his candidacy to leverage more resources for his district, which spans Flatbush, East Flatbush, and Canarsie.
“It creates opportunity for Jumaane Williams to make a deal for himself and his constituency only,” Sheinkopf said.
Lander said he had been in talks with Williams before the latter made his decision to run, but declined to say whom he would support — though he vowed that the Progressive Caucus would vote as a bloc for one of the candidates.
“We are working hard toward our shared goals,” said Lander.
A major obstacle Williams could face in becoming Speaker is his widely-reported opposition to gay marriage and abortion. Both Williams and Lander refused to comment on the Flatbush pol’s stances on the issue, though Lander said he would stand by the Progressive Caucus’s stated principles — which include unequivocal support for same-sex marriage.
The Council votes for its new Speaker on Jan. 8, 2014.