Buying the Speakership

Here on the morning of the Council’s vote for Speaker, we thought it might be amusing to take a look at some of the money that was spent in pursuit of winning that office…or, in the event, losing it.

It is perfectly legal and standard practice for campaign committees to make direct campaign contributions.  A number of better-funded councilmembers contributed money to their colleagues throughout the 2013 cycle, for a variety of reasons, one supposes.  Perhaps not coincidentally, most of such intra-Council donations were made by candidates for Speaker: one couldn’t call these transactions bribes per se, but it is probably fair to think of them as a means of buying some goodwill in advance of the vote.

The sums given by individual councilmembers, through their campaign committees to other councilmembers’ campaign committees, while miniscule in the context of total campaign spending, nonetheless provide some insight into the machinations of the Speaker’s race.

The largest contributor to other Council candidates was Daniel Garodnick’s committee Garodnick 2013.  CM Garodnick entered the season with a huge war chest, accrued while he was mulling a run for Comptroller, and his committee could well afford the $21,825 he doled out to 14 individual Council candidates.  But what good did it do him?  Not a lot.  Garodnick gave his fellow Manhattanites Ydanis Rodriguez $1750 and Mark Levine $2750, and both of them were early and vocal advocates of Melissa Mark-Viverito.  He gave Chaim Deutsch and Antonio Reynoso each $2750, and Rafael Espinal $1000, but all three Kings County councilmembers played follow the leader when boss Frank Seddio cut his notorious deal with the Mayor.  Julissa Ferreras of Queens got $1000 from Garodnick 2013, but it wasn’t enough to keep her breaking with boss Joe Crowley when the time came.

Councilmember Mark Weprin also ponied up from his campaign coffer, dispensing $11,250 to seven individual council campaigns, all to little avail.  Mark Levine got $2750, to which CM Weprin got a hat tip but nothing else.  Brooklyn’s Chaim Deutsch also got the maximum amount, and his fellows Vincent Gentile and Alan Maisel got $1000 apiece, but no one came to their donor’s aid when the call went out.

Crowley for Congress gave Danny Dromm’s campaign $2000: given Dromm’s apparent defection from his boss’s camp, one imagines that will be the last contribution flowing from that particular source.  Friends of James Vacca gave Vacca protégé Ritchie Torres $2750, but that doesn’t seem to have kept CM Torres from being the lone Bronx councilmember to side with the Mark-Viverito faction.

But let’s be real here: we are talking about chump change, and nobody is actually going to sell themselves so cheaply.  Especially when we look at what the other side is offering.  In addition to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that 1199 (the prime mover behind the Mark-Viverito candidacy) and allied unions poured into council campaigns, we saw a massive, quite unprecedented expenditure of political capital by the new Mayor.  

At first it seemed surprising that de Blasio was voicing tacit support for a particular Speaker candidate.  Next, eyebrows were raised amidst reports that the Mayor was calling up individual councilmembers to press for his choice.  Then it emerged that he had personally orchestrated a deal with Frank Seddio, even before his inauguration, thereby traducing his entire campaign’s ethos of transparency and honest process.  This last week we have witnessed de Blasio’s stable of pet celebrities demanding the coronation of Melissa Mark-Viverito, in what is turning into a black mass of political theater, with various ethnic leaders and feminist paragons all chorusing that she, and she alone, must be the Speaker.  

Yesterday’s press conference was almost Orwellian, with the Mayor insisting that any comparison of his relationship with Mark-Viverito to the Bloomberg-Quinn nexus was not only inaccurate, but represented a complete failure of logic or congruency.  They are very closely aligned, but she will be independent.  He expressed his preference, but the councilmembers vote their conscience.  

The Mayor is feeling rich right now and assumes he has a popular mandate.  He is getting the Speaker he wants: let’s see if he wants the Speaker he gets.