Latinos Hail Mark-Viverito’s ‘Historic’ Election

Melissa Mark-Viverito after being elected City Council speaker (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario-La Prensa.

Melissa Mark-Viverito after being elected City Council speaker. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario-La Prensa)

The tough battle for the City Council speaker in New York ended shortly after noon yesterday with a unanimous vote in favor of Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who became the first Hispanic politician to occupy the most important seat in the city after the mayor.

“It means a lot to me that this barrier is finally broken, and I want to make sure that we will have significant impact in our communities from now on,” said Mark-Viverito to El Diario-La Prensa, as a number of colleagues and other guests surrounded her to take a picture.

“She is now the most powerful Latina in the city,” said Rep. Nydia Velázquez, who was present for the vote. The election was permeated by messages of unity on the part of government officials. This unity was confirmed by a surprising embrace between Mark-Viverito and opponent Dan Garodnick just minutes after the 51 Council members voted out loud.

Still, Mark-Viverito’s candidacy was not always well-received by some political sectors. Influential leaders within the Democratic Party in Queens and the Bronx supported Garodnick until the last minute.

“This was not a personal issue. We had differences of opinions, but this changed at the moment when the councilors voted,” said Rep. Joe Crowley. The leader of the Democratic Party in Queens was the main voice against Mark-Viverito during the campaign.

Historically, county leaders were the only ones capable of negotiating the selection of the speaker of the New York City Council. This year, however, both the Council’s Progressive Caucus and the unions had a decisive influence on the process. The Caucus is said to have secured the 30 votes that elected Mark-Viverito.

When asked if the Progressive Caucus had weakened the powers of county leaders, Crowley said: “The person who secured those votes is a council leader himself.” Crowley was referring to Frank Seddio, chairman of the Kings County Democratic Committee, whose support of Mark-Viverito represented a decisive advantage for the Puerto Rican candidate.

Crowley denied that he is promoting the creation of a group of council members independent from the progressive group. “The proof is that they all ended up voting for Melissa,” said the congressman.

Queens Council members were divided until the last minute between Mark-Viverito and Garodnick. Some questioned the councilwoman’s lack of independence due to her close ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Mark-Viverito was the first local politician who expressed her support for the new mayor during his campaign, and he repaid her by backing her own candidacy to speaker of the City Council.

In a conciliatory tone, Garodnick said that he conceded “for the sake of unity.” He said that “our job now is to make sure that the Council continues to play counterpart to the mayor.”

Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who opposed Mark-Viverito’s candidacy to the end, said: “Let’s see if she does what she said she would do, and if the unity of the Council is really evident under her authority.”

Reactions from people on the street:

“Very good appointment. I live in El Barrio and I always hear people talking about her because she seems nice. I voted for her.”  – Lidia Roman, 47, Puerto Rico

“I think she can do something for the Hispanic community. This mayor has brought a lot of Hispanics.” – Fernando de Jesús, 65, Puerto Rico

“I don’t know her and I’ve never seen her, and I’ve lived in El Barrio for 30 years.” – María Sandoval, 50, El Salvador

“Perfect, just because she is Hispanic.” – Cruz Lares, 26, Mexico

Hispanic leaders applauded the appointment

“Mark-Viverito’s election is another historic milestone in her career and for the city’s Latino community, who currently account for nearly 30 percent of the entire population of New York City. ”  – National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO)

“Her tremendous leadership as a champion for immigrant rights and civil rights, and her fierce advocacy for government reforms and progressive solutions to our city’s problems set the stage for Councilwoman Mark-Viverito to be a visionary speaker.”  – Hispanic Federation

“Today we saw history made as my friend and colleague Melissa Mark-Viverito was elected the first Latina Speaker of the New York City Council. She will be an outstanding leader for the whole City, showing all New Yorkers what it means to have a powerful, liberal, proud Puerto Rican fighting for them.” –  Rep. José E. Serrano

“Melissa Mark-Viverito has demonstrated exemplary character, leadership and drive during her time as an elected official, and will use these traits to take the council to new heights in developing a more inclusive city for our most vulnerable citizens.” – Councilman Ydanis Rodríguez

“Those most vulnerable, neglected and forgotten have now a voice in Melissa and in the City Council.”  – Councilman Ritchie Torres

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