Searchlight on City Hall
Published by the Citizens Union Foundation
January 22, 2010
The Council’s New Order
The City Council played its own political game of musical chairs Thursday.
And when the music stopped, Councilmember Charles Barron had nowhere to sit.
On Thursday, the City Council voted 47 to 1 to appoint new leadership, new committee chairs and new committee members, which shuffled freshmen and seniors from influential posts to ceremonial ones and vice versa.
Of the council’s 13 new members, six will chair influential standing committees, and five received a leadership position on one of the council’s subcommittees.
Third term council members Leroy Comrie of Queens and Domenic Recchia of Brooklyn landed the council’s most prominent and influential chairmanships, land use and finance, respectively.
Controversially, Barron, who had chaired the council’s Higher Education Committee since he joined the council in 2002, was stripped of his position.
Barron attributed his demotion to the fact that he was the only member to challenge Christine Quinn this month for City Council speaker. Quinn was re-elected by a vote of 48 to 1, with Barron dissenting. Known for speaking up at council meetings, Barron compared Quinn to a “dictator,” arguing he was being punished for his so-called independence.
“This to me is an abuse of power. It’s very divisive,“ said Barron. “You want to remove me because I’m an ineffective chair. You can’t do that,” Barron added, saying he has held 80 hearings.
During the meeting, Barron went over his allotted two-minute comment period, and council officials proceeded to turn off his microphone.
Late last year, during a press conference at the ground breaking of Fiterman Hall, a long-vacant CUNY building that was damaged in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Barron clashed with CUNY Trustee Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld.
The incident could have been a factor in his demotion.
When asked about the decision, Quinn said, “I did not reappoint Councilmember Barron as chair of the Higher Education Committee because I believe it’s very important to have committee chairs that are unifying forces.”
Freshman Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez has taken Barron’s place.
Committees as Political Power
Wrangling over committee chair positions has become a pastime for the council. Some argue the quarreling arises from members’ pet issues, while others point to the hefty stipends, known as lulus, attached to every chair position. For instance, by chairing land use and serving as deputy majority leader, Comrie adds $20,000 to his $112,500 salary.
Many also say the chair positions are rewards for those who are loyal to the speaker — a.k.a. not Barron. Standing committee chairmanships earn council members an extra $10,000, while subcommittee chairmanships are worth $4,000.
Quinn, who selects all of the new chairs, earns $28,500 for her position as the council leader.
As for the more influential positions, Councilmember James Vacca has taken over now-Comptroller John Liu’s position on the Transportation Committee, Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley now heads up the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee, and Councilmember Letitia James has taken over the sanitation committee.
Freshman Councilmember Karen Koslowitz, who served in the council in the 1990s and was elected again this fall, took her previous position as chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee.
None of the council’s five Republicans received a chairmanship.
The only other veteran member who did not receive a standing committee chairmanship was Vincent Gentile of Brooklyn. He kept his position as chair of the libraries select committee.
“I am pleased to be able to continue to work with libraries, and I think libraries are of particular interest to Speaker Quinn,” said Gentile, who cast several votes against the majority in the last term, including on congestion pricing and term limits.
Freshman Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens will head the committee that oversees the libraries subcommittee — the Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations Committee.
Appointing chairs from certain boroughs can also be used to curry favor with county party bosses.
This year, both Brooklyn and Queens received 11 standing committee chairmanships.
This week, Citizens Union, the sister organization to Gotham Gazette’s publisher, released a report card calling for the end of the council stipend system, saying it only supports the “boss-driven system of government.”
For a full list of who got what, see below.
Speaker: Christine Quinn, $28,500
Majority Leader / Rules: Joel Rivera, $23,000
Deputy Majority Leader / Land Use: Leroy Comrie, $20,000
Assistant Majority Leader/ Standards and Ethics: Inez Dickens, $15,000
Assistant Majority Leader/ Youth Services: Lewis Fidler, $15,000
Majority Whip / Community Development: Al Vann, $11,000
Minority Leader: Jimmy Oddo, $18,000
Minority Whip: Eric Ulrich, $5,000
Finance: Domenic Recchia, $18,000
Aging: Jessica Lappin, $10,000
Civil Rights: Larry Seabrook, $10,000
Civil Service and Labor: James Sanders, $10,000
Consumer Affairs: Karen Koslowitz, $10,000
Contracts: Darlene Mealy, $10,000
Cultural Affairs, Libraries, & International Intergroup Relations: Jimmy Van Bramer, $10,000
Economic Development: Thomas White, $10,000
Education: Robert Jackson, $10,000
Environmental Protection: James Gennaro, $10,000
Fire and Criminal Justice Services: Elizabeth Crowley, $10,000
General Welfare: Annabel Palma, $10,000
Governmental Operations: Gale Brewer, $10,000
Health, Maria del Carmen Arroyo: $10,000
Higher Education: Ydanis Rodriguez, $10,000
Housing and Buildings: Erik Martin Dilan, $10,000
Immigration: Daniel Dromm, $10,000
Juvenile Justice: Sara Gonzalez, $10,000
Lower Manhattan Redevelopment: Margaret Chin, $10,000
Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse & Disability Services: Oliver Koppell, $10,000
Oversight and Investigations: Jumaane Williams, $10,000
Parks and Recreation: Melissa Mark-Viverito, $10,000
Public Housing: Rosie Mendez, $10,000
Public Safety: Peter Vallone Jr., $10,000
Sanitation and Solid Waste Management: Letitia James, $10,000
Small Business: Diana Reyna, $10,000
State and Federal Legislation: Helen Foster, $10,000
Transportation: James Vacca, $10,000
Technology: Dan Garodnick, $10,000
Veterans: Mathieu Eugene, $10,000
Waterfronts: Michael Nelson, $10,000
Women’s Issues: Julissa Ferreras, $10,000
Zoning and Franchises (Land Use): Mark Weprin, $4,000
Landmarks, Public Siting & Maritime Uses (Land Use): Brad Lander, $4,000
Planning, Dispositions and Concessions (Land Use): Steve Levin, $4,000
Drug Abuse (Mental Health): Fernando Cabrera, $4,000
Senior Centers (Aging): Deborah Rose, $4,000
Libraries: Vincent Gentile, $4,000