City Council Chamber (Photo: Emil Cohen / New York Council)
In a near-unanimous vote on Wednesday, Adrienne Adams, a Democrat from Queens, was elected the new president of city council, making history as the first-ever black leader of the 51-member legislature. The presidency gives it city-wide reach with all of its challenges, made even more pressing by the covid pandemic and the city’s ongoing recovery attempts. Rates of gun violence and unemployment remain high, and the city faces a number of other crises related to housing, education, etc.
As Adams begins to set the legislative, political and budgetary agenda for the years to come, four of the five speakers before her have offered sage advice on leading a diverse chamber of lawmakers and working with a mayor who is not. not always aligned with the organization’s priorities. .
Adams is only the sixth person to become president of city council since the post was created in the city’s charter in 1989. Her predecessors, who are also all Democrats, include, most recently Corey Johnson, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Christine Quinn, Gifford Miller and Peter Vallone Sr. All except Vallone Sr. have spoken with the Gotham Gazette and had similar words of wisdom stressing the speaker’s duty to represent the many divergent voices within Council while adopting a city-wide vision and finding the right balance in mayor collaboration and accountability.
Adams heads the first-ever majority-female and most diverse-class Council in House history, with its first Korean-American, Muslim, and South Asian members, as well as a newly enlarged Republican minority of five members.
“It’s a very exciting prospect to have the first historic female-led council headed by a woman and I think that’s important,” said Mark-Viverito, who was a speaker from 2014 to 2017, at a telephone interview. “I think there’s a lot more pressure with that for her too. But I’m sure she will adapt to the task. The imprint it leaves will be important.
Johnson, Adams’ immediate predecessor, worked with her on the Council for four years as he led the body from 2018 to 2021. “Being a speaker is a very difficult job,” he said during a telephone interview. “Honestly, in my personal experience, nothing really prepares you for it until you start and you’re in the middle, and you deal with members every day, you deal with the mayor’s office, you are dealing with the governor’s office, dealing with city and state agencies, dealing with lawyers and institutional interests in New York City, and dealing with the press. It’s a lot. It’s like being thrown straight into the fire.
As president, Adams will lead city council by legislating, negotiating the budget with Mayor Eric Adams (no connection, although they went to high school together), a fellow Democrat with roots in Southeast Queens, and overseeing city agencies, among the many functions of its station. “The President is really someone who finds consensus within the body,” Johnson said. “So it’s really going to be a matter of figuring out what that consensus is and then sort of tapping into it on how to work proactively and cooperatively with the mayor or sometimes be independent from the mayor depending on the issue.”
Johnson said Adrienne Adams, whom he appointed to chair the public safety committee overseeing the NYPD, is a “pragmatic progressive” who gained the experience necessary for the leadership position before and during his tenure at the NYPD. Advice.
Like Johnson, she was chair of her local community’s board of directors before being elected to the board. Elected in 2017 to represent Queens’ District 28, Adams has had to deal with the complicated land use process around the redevelopment of JFK Airport, for example. She co-chaired the Council’s Black, Latin and Asian Caucus, and chaired the Public Safety Committee during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement after the police murder of George Floyd and pressure from activists to withdraw from the NYPD.
“I really believe in working with her over the last four years, she has the temper, she has the charisma, she has the skills, she has the experience to really be a fantastic speaker,” Johnson said.
Adams has already sought advice from those who came before her. She held a closed-door meeting with Quinn and Miller on January 3 to get a first-hand look at her new job. She noted that she had invited Johnson, Mark-Viverito and Vallone but that they were unable to do so.
“Leadership begins with listening, which is why I am grateful to hear the experiences and advice of our past presidents,” Adams said in a statement after the meeting. “Each has led the Council through a challenge for New York City. Their perspective is invaluable as the new class of City Council prepares to face the many trials that lie ahead. I want to thank them for this time and hope it will be an ongoing conversation.
Quinn touted the historic nature of Adams’ presidency, as the first black speaker to head a predominantly female first council. “I think those two things empower her and will help her do an even better job,” she said.
At the Jan. 3 meeting, Quinn said Adams had expressed interest in creating an “inclusive and transparent agenda” for the Board that mobilizes the votes of all of its members. “She was really quick,” said Quinn, who runs Win, a shelter system for homeless women and families. “I have worked with her on issues related to the compensation of nonprofit workers, and I found her diligent and focused and wouldn’t let go of the issue when she got involved. And I think she will be the same kind of speaker and be a great partner for the mayor.
But Quinn also made some light recommendations. “I reminded him to have fun. This is probably one of the most important things, ”she said.
“I think she’s in a very strong position with such support among the board members,” said Miller, who was the second board chair from 2002 to 2005. “Although there is a lot of turnover , I think there is a strong core of very talented senior members, whom she can draw upon to help create and move the Council’s agenda forward. So I think she is in a good position and that she should continue to do what she is doing, which is listening and building coalitions.
Miller had a warning note for Adams. “I think there is so much to try to do, and you have to prioritize as President,” he said. “The mayor has literally hundreds of thousands of people working for him and so many more resources. And as President, you have to be careful to put together a thoughtful agenda and choose your spots. “
There are of course several challenges awaiting President Adams. One of the first major tests of her role as a speaker will be the budget for the next fiscal year. The budget process will begin in earnest when Mayor Adams releases his first draft budget proposal in the coming weeks, which will then be dissected and considered by Council in public hearings and private meetings before releasing his response.
“It’s a very delicate moment in the history of the city and I know it’s going to take a very heavy toll, not just on her,” said Mark-Viverito, “it’s going to take a heavy toll on this Council… and so I think that that, for me, is probably going to be at the heart of the work that lies ahead, at least in these first two years and these first two budgets and the policies that go with them.
“We need to lead with empathy, compassion and a genuine commitment to address these incredible disparities and systemic injustices that exist and I know she will make a commitment to it,” she added.
President Adams has a friendly relationship with the mayor, but he has not backed her candidacy for first place in Council, even though she endorsed her campaign for mayor and they go back a long way. Instead, he backed board member Francisco Moya, but Adrienne Adams got support from the main unions, several other presidential candidates, other power actors like Representative Gregory Meeks, Chairman of the Queens County Democratic Party, and enough returning and incoming Council members to declare victory with majority support.
Already, some factions of the Council have been unhappy with the mayor’s initial decisions and comments and appear to have started to draw lines in the sand. As an example, Mayor Adams said in December he would re-establish a form of “punitive segregation” in the city’s prisons, prompting a strong backlash from the majority of council members, mostly 29. newly elected progressives, while President Adams also separately voiced her opposition. .
Mayor Adams and President Adams both highlighted their common values and priorities across the board, with the mayor saying it is exciting to work with the speaker and speaker saying alike, but that Council will also exercise its functions mandated as an independent body with oversight, legislative, budgetary and local responsibilities.
“I think the Council is more divided now, ideologically than it ever has been,” Johnson said. “Obviously, there are going to be major disagreements between the Adams administration and the Council at large. [Speaker Adams] is going to have to face these challenges strategically and I think she will be able to do it with intelligence and grace.
“You are dealing with a mayor who is New Yorker and the other members who are New Yorkers, so no one, certainly not President Adams, comes into the post expecting unanimity,” Quinn said. . “You don’t get that from New Yorkers. Every New Yorker has 20 different opinions on one thing. She understands that. It is always a challenge to be at the head of a legislative body, whether you are [State Assembly] President Heastie, [House of Representatives] President Pelosi, or you are President Adams, you have a lot of people with a lot of different opinions and you kind of have to listen and exploit those positions and try to come out of one that as far as possible matches the needs. of most people.