New York City

With city council speaker vote on the horizon, keep your eyes on the money

With City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito term limited in 2017 and whispers of an even earlier exit if her preferred presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, were to win in November, City Hall-watchers are looking everywhere for hints as to who could be the speaker’s successor. And with Campaign Finance Board filings now in for the first half of 2016, the disparities in cash are striking among the Council members whose names are in the mix.

To be sure, the speaker is elected by the City Council members themselves, and those jockeying for the position spend little to no money on the process. It is a campaign that requires lots of person-to-person lobbying among the 51-member Council, but not flyers or door-knocking. The ability to raise money, though, can send a message, and having a lot of cash on hand could let the other Council members know that a certain candidate is a serious player. And while most city council seats are safe, especially for those seeking the speakership, extra funds can easily be donated to other candidates. This could be used to help an ally in a tough reelection, or even to help fund a primary challenge to a legislative opponent, such as Charles Barron supporting Tulani Kinard over the incumbent Darlene Mealy in 2009.

Queens City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s rumored favored choice for speaker, had a productive filing period. Between Jan. 12 and July 11 this year, Ferreras-Copeland raised a total of $47,163 – among the highest fundraising totals. Her spending was greater than most, though, with receipts totaling more than $83,000, including outstanding liabilities from earlier filing periods. Despite a net drop in funds over the last six months, she has nearly $70,000 cash in hand thanks to steady contributions since the start of the term in 2014.

Ferreras-Copeland’s cash on hand is significantly less than that of her fellow Queens Council member and current majority leader, Jimmy Van Bramer, who is also eying the speakership. He raised $71,589 in the recent filing period, adding to his already significant cash reserves of $238,304. Van Bramer has raised just under $300,000 since the start of the term in 2014, already doubling his $145,000 total from the 2013 election cycle with 16 months left until Election Day.

“We’re very pleased with what we’ve been able to accomplish on fundraising,” Van Bramer said in an interview Tuesday. He also confirmed his interest in the position: “Leading the body would be a tremendous challenge and opportunity and honor. I’m not going to deny being interested in becoming speaker, and I’m not going to play coy.”

While Manhattan’s City Councilman Corey Johnson did not have a lucrative filing period, raising $12,950, his cash reserves are nearly as high as Van Bramer’s, with an estimated balance of $222,313. Rumored to be interested in the speakership, Johnson has been a more active fundraiser this term, with his total already exceeding his pull from the 2013 race, where he raised just under $200,000 in private funds.

Among other Council members who are said to be interested, Brooklyn’s Jumaane Williams raised $25,678 this period, adding to his more than $73,000 in cash on hand. And Upper Manhattan’s Mark Levine raised $50,015, adding to his balance of more than $130,000.

Other Council members who may be interested in the speakership do not seem to be aiming to impress with their fundraising numbers. Despite being the City Council’s youngest member, the Bronx’s Ritchie Torres has been mentioned among possible speaker candidates. He had a net loss of $6,017 this filing period thanks to refunding contributions and some spending. Despite that, he still has an estimated $82,320 in the bank.

Ydanis Rodriguez, who has made known his interest in the speakership, is similarly having a financially lackluster 2016. His campaign shows a net loss of just over $6,000 for the period, though he still has a positive overall balance of about $17,000.

Another rumored speaker candidate, Vanessa Gibson of the Bronx, appears to be far behind in fundraising as well. Having filed just one disclosure statement with the Campaign Finance Board so far, her campaign shows a balance of $8,950, all raised in the first half of 2016. Brooklyn’s Robert Cornegy, who is also said to be interested in the speakership, has yet to even file as an individual candidate with the board, and has no numbers available.

The City Council’s overall fundraising champion so far is Brooklyn’s David Greenfield, who added just over $109,000 this period to his total balance of $438,926 – a figure more on par with borough president candidates than his fellow Council members. That cash in hand is especially impressive considering Greenfield raised $126,166 over the entire election cycle in 2014, though it is certainly boosted by his position as chairman of the Land Use Committee, which opens him to particular support from players in the well-heeled real estate industry.

However, in the speaker’s race, as in life, money isn’t everything. Mark-Viverito raised nearly $150,000 in private funds in her 2013 campaign, easily putting her in the top half of City Council campaigns, but paling in comparison to her chief competitor for the speakership, Councilman Dan Garodnick, who raised $1.2 million – the most of any candidate. That race was won in part thanks to racial and gender politics, county party influence, one-to-one campaigning, and even a little behind-the-scenes maneuvering from the mayor. As Garodnick said at the time, “These speaker’s races are notoriously odd beasts.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Paul Vallone as an incumbent City Council member in 2013.

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