First of all, watch this ten second video of Mayor de Blasio speaking in an odd cadence at the start of his State of the City speech:
So far nobody has ever explained why the Speaker of the city council gives a “State of the City” speech. Following the model of the Constitution, state and local executives are usually mandated, or at least expected, to deliver an annual address. But there is no pattern of leaders of legislatures giving these types of speeches.
Paul Ryan doesn’t give a “State of the Union” speech. Carl Heastie doesn’t give a “State of the State” speech. It’s “not a thing,” as people say. Mark-Viverito doesn’t get all the blame for it, because Peter Vallone started the tradition, but she has continued the corrosive practice and exalted its pomp and ceremony to absurd heights.
The latest iteration of this tired exercise was emceed by Majority Leader Jimmy van Bramer, who played Regis Philbin to MMV’s Joey Bishop: he warmed up the crowd with some lame jokes about how many people are running for Speaker and how Trump has turned his hair grey, and then introduced every councilmember, all of whom stood in turn for extremely thin applause. He then said something strange:
“I was just talking to our Speaker, who is about to come out here, and she asked me to say a few thank-yous and special acknowledgements. One, to thank every single one of you who are here today, live and in person, and then to thank all of those who are viewing this tremendous occasion on livestream, including those who are viewing from la isla del encanto, her beloved Puerto Rico. And a special shout-out to Jan, Alejandro, Clarisa y Oscar.”
Is Melissa Mark-Viverito too grand to make her own thank-yous to the crowd? Why did Jimmy van Bramer have to perform this weirdly servile duty, referencing “her beloved” homeland? It isn’t as though she wasn’t standing a few feet away.
The “special shout-out” is the key. Oscar refers of course to Oscar Lopez Rivera, the terrorist hero of Melissa Mark-Viverito granted clemency in the last week of the Obama administration: Clarisa is his daughter, Jan Susler is his lawyer, and Alejandro Garcia Padilla is the former governor of Puerto Rico. Apparently the Speaker didn’t want to mention Lopez Rivera in her own speech, so she gave the task to van Bramer. At least now we know what the Council Majority Leader is for.
Aficionados of flag etiquette may have noticed something odd up on the stage behind the Speaker. Eight flags were arrayed right behind her, including the standard of Puerto Rico, which was positioned to the extreme left of the group, next to the state flag of New York. The leftmost flag indicates precedence, so the Speaker was basically saying that the Puerto Rican flag was the most important flag of the group, ranking higher than the state, city, or borough flags.
Of course, we may ask why the Puerto Rican flag was up there in the first place. Melissa Mark-Viverito left la isla del encanto about thirty years ago, when she was a teenager, and has lived in NYC ever since. Though she has family in the Commonwealth and owns property there, she is not a Puerto Rican resident, much less an elected official. Yes, there are many Puerto Ricans in New York. There are also many people originally from New Jersey who live here now. When Mayor de Blasio gave his State of the City speech he did not plant the flag of Massachusetts in front of the New York flags, and it would have been bizarre if he had done so. Given that the theme of the Speaker’s speech was our common identity as New Yorkers, it is off-putting that she felt the need to assert the primacy of her ethno-nationalist origins so blatantly.
Some dope on Twitter sent me pictures of Bloomberg waving an Italian flag and Giuliani standing by an Israeli flag, and asked if I had called them on it. Obviously there is nothing objectionable about celebrating other national identities on Columbus Day or whenever. But, as I informed my dopey correspondent, the State of the City speech is not the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Following Hillary Clinton's loss in November, it became painfully clear that Melissa Mark-Viverito had reached her political ceiling. She was certainly hoping (planning?) to get a job in DC with the new Clinton administration, and the disappearance of that opportunity underscored how lame a duck she really is.
Oddly like her predecessor Christine Quinn, Mark-Viverito is not very well-liked even in her own district. MMV has never broken 50% in any of her primary runs. She has a lot of money in her campaign account, but what is she going to run for? There is no obvious path for her. One imagines that the Mayor could make her a deputy mayor or commissioner of something, but is that it?
Imagining that everyone in New York City is as desperate to find her a new job as she surely is, Mark-Viverito commissioned an ostensibly self-deprecating video showing her trying and failing to be a rapper, a comedian, a basketball player...you get the drift.
Try watching it, if you are up to it. And ask yourself how busy she really is, if she has time to do this.
Some interesting primary challenges may be gearing up. We already talked about how Assemblymember Francisco Moya is planning a Joe Crowley-backed nuisance run against his 2009 rival Julissa Ferreras-Copeland. That rematch should be fun to watch. But over in Brooklyn there is a battle brewing where Ede Fox is likely preparing to primary Laurie Cumbo in the 35th CD, where she came in a close third in the tight 2013 primary to succeed Tish James.
Fox, a longtime Council staffer and a close ally to Mark-Viverito, was hired to run a new economic development unit within the Council administration—a plum appointment that irked the newly elected CM Cumbo, who wanted a concession from Fox that she wouldn’t run against her again. In the event, Cumbo recently learned that Fox was prepping to run, and the CM claimed that Fox was using her position as a Council staffer to develop opposition research against her, and should be fired.
Cumbo then went to the mayor’s side of City Hall and demanded that de Blasio put the squeeze on the Speaker to get rid of Ede Fox, or else she would oppose the controversial Bedford-Union Armory affordable housing plan, which is already under attack from local politicians. The mayor made a call, and Fox was out.
Next time: Carlos Menchaca, Palestine, and Felix Ortiz.