De Blasio Seeks a Centrist Pivot in Melissa Mark-Viverito

Bill de Blasio forced a showdown between the City Council’s Progressive Caucus and the chairs of the major County Democratic Parties this week when he embarked on open advocacy of Melissa Mark-Viverito as Speaker.

Latest news details a fracture among the bosses, as Kings County’s Frank Seddio has agreed to throw his weight behind the Progressive Caucus Co-chair.  It is unclear how many of Brooklyn’s 16 votes (besides the 6 committed progs) will necessarily follow Seddio, but his defection from the Garodnick camp changes the calculus.

Both sides are playing a momentum game, trying to create the impression of inevitability for their candidate.  The PC, which has no teeth in the way of jobs or ballot lines in the way that the county chairs do, must promote itself as moving inexorably forward: get on board or be on the losing side of history.

Power plays like what the PC is attempting either succeed completely or fail utterly.  That is why Melissa Mark-Viverito will either become Speaker, or leave the Council entirely.  If she loses her bid, she will be shut out of leadership and have to be a powerless backbencher; probably de Blasio would invent a place for her in his administration to give her a graceful exit.

Similarly, if the current power play works, then the PC will be ascendant in city politics.  Joe Crowley will still control Queens County, and could punish wayward members of the delegation who broke party discipline, but in the context of a Prog mayor and speaker, his authority would be diminished.  But if the power play sputters out, then the PC will no longer have coherence as a political force, and will go back to being a club of union-backed liberal council members.

One has to wonder why de Blasio is pushing so hard to get Mark-Viverito elected speaker.  It isn’t as though any of the other candidates would seriously oppose his agenda.  On one hand, it would be helpful for de Blasio to have a functional deputy-mayor running the Council on his behalf: that way he wouldn’t even have to negotiate about policy.

Also, it could be useful for de Blasio to have Melissa Mark-Viverito in as Speaker in order to give himself room to pivot.  Right now Bill de Blasio is being depicted as a kind of Bolivarian radical set on total revolution: Park Slope's answer to the Shining Path.  The only way for him to cut right is to have someone even leftier than him as a foil.  If Mark-Viverito is running the Council, then de Blasio can deflect blame if any particularly loony leftwing policy implementations go awry.  His appointments already reflect a moderation of his demotic campaign rhetoric, and demonstrate that his actual governing style will likely be measured and cautious.  Having an unapologetic radical as Speaker will allow the Mayor to seem like the grown-up in the room.