The Speaker Race: City Council Elects Corey Johnson

Council Speaker Corey Johnson after winning the vote to succeed Melissa Mark-Viverito. (Photo by William Alatriste/City Council)

Corey Johnson, 35, became speaker of the New York City Council on Jan. 3 following a 48-1 vote at the first meeting this year of the 51-member chamber. Gay City News’ Duncan Osborne reports on the win for the openly gay and HIV-positive official.

Council members explained why they voted for Johnson, among them some unlikely supporters:

When Ruben Diaz, Sr., a former state senator who now represents Bronx neighborhoods in the City Council, was in the hospital following major surgery, Johnson paid him a visit. Diaz is a well-known opponent of the LGBTQ community and voted against same-sex marriage in the State Senate in 2011 and 2009.

“A man that doesn’t agree with what I say, this person, Corey Johnson, came to see me in the hospital,” Diaz said as he cast his vote for Johnson.

Johnson moved from Massachusetts to New York City in 2001. He eventually joined Community Board 4 in Manhattan, and went on to become chair of the board. He won his first run for the City Council in 2013 in district 3 (Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Greenwich Village, West SoHo, Hudson Square, Times Square, Garment District, Flatiron, Upper West Side).

While Johnson easily won the speaker vote, some criticism had surfaced during the race. Osborne notes:

What has dogged Johnson’s race for speaker is that he is a white man heading a City Council that has a majority of members who are Latinx, African-American, and Asian.

This matter came up when [Inez] Barron nominated herself.

“White men, a white woman, and a Latina have been speaker, but we’ve never had a black speaker,” she said. “I think you have to recognize that I am not white and I’m not male and I’m not going to get the blessing of the power structure.”

Go to Gay City News for Johnson’s response following his win and more on the speaker race.

In covering the victory, Gotham Gazette’s Samar Khurshid reports that the new speaker “warned of challenges of ‘historic proportions’ that lay ahead”:

…an affordability crisis that is pushing out residents of the city, an “overflowing” shelter system with thousands of homeless families, struggling mom and pop businesses, a mass transit crisis owing from years of government neglect, continued racial disparities across the city, and potential funding cuts from the state and federal governments. “These problems are incredibly complex and entrenched,” he said. “But the future of our city depends on our ability to confront them. And confront them we will.”

In alluding to the many thorny issues that plagued the first term of the de Blasio administration, he promised to tackle them with increased independence from the mayor.

Khurshid also noted that Johnson is the first openly gay and HIV-positive man to lead the City Council.

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