NYC Council’s Female Speaker

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Amid much applause, several standing ovations, hugs, and a few tears, on January 4th, Council Member Christine Quinn was elected the first woman and first openly gay Speaker of the New York City Council. She succeeds Gifford Miller, who, due to term limits, was forced to leave office last month.

As Majority Leader Joel Rivera pointed out in nominating Quinn, this was a historic moment because, “Not too long ago, the thought of a female even sitting in this chamber was an impossibility.� He also noted that along with installing the first woman Speaker, they were also gaining an additional female councilmember, bringing the number of women to 16, which isn’t good enough yet, but is definitely progress.

Majority Whip Leroy Comrie, who himself had been a candidate for Speaker, said that he was honored and proud to second the nomination of Christine Quinn. Calling her “a tireless fighter for our most needy,� he cited her work on homelessness, pediatric health care and services for senior citizens.

Council Member Diana Reyna also seconded the nomination. She spoke of Quinn’s forceful advocacy on women’s issues and concluded by saying to her, “On behalf of all the women in this body, you have made us the tallest, proudest women in the City of New York.� The vote that followed was largely a formality, the outcome of literally months of intense maneuvering behind closed doors among council members and Democratic county leaders from Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn deciding who would become the city's second-most powerful official. Quinn was approved of by a vote of 50 to 0, with one abstention.

That one abstention was registered by the always courageous and ever outspoken Council Member Charles Barron. He began his remarks by declaring: “I rise today making the most difficult decision I've ever had to make here in the City Council. I was warned by many that this could even cost me my Chair of the Higher Education Committee, but I assured them that Speaker Quinn is just not like that.� Voicing what one can surmise are also the unspoken views of several other council members, Barron made it clear that he opposes the process of electing the Speaker, not Christine Quinn herself. He hailed her as a hard-working, progressive councilmember who he intends to work with productively to meet the needs of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, particularly working class communities of color.

Barron went on to delineate his objection to outside interference in the election of the Speaker by county political organizations, businesses, organized labor and special interest groups. He said to his fellow council members: “The people voted for you, not your county leader. You owe it to the people to be strong, independent and principled in making decisions that affect their lives. It cannot continue to be all about who gets what chairs and assignments to what committees.� And he implored Speaker Quinn to “prioritize the needy over the greedy, principals over power, and always the people over the outside forces that think they have privilege.�

In her impassioned acceptance speech, Speaker Quinn pledged that she will be “guided by principles that will make our government even more responsive to people's needs and more effective for all New Yorkers.� She said that she is committed to being a five-borough Speaker: “Whether you speak Spanish in the South Bronx, Chinese in Flushing, Yiddish in Borough Park, Creole in Flatbush, Bassa in Park Hill or English in Chelsea, we serve you; our job is to make your life better.�

Quinn continued that it is the responsibility of the City Council to connect government with the needs of the people, and that for many of the over one million New Yorkers who recently entered this country, the council is a critical lifeline to needed services.

“Let me say that I am incredibly proud that in the most diverse city in the world, that diversity is seen as a strength, not an impediment,� Quinn concluded. “For that I owe a debt of gratitude to all of you in this chamber and to all of our constituents in our districts. Thank you for your support; thank you for your trust. I won't let you down.�

Following the meeting, Council Member Yvette Clarke said she was really impressed with Quinn’s speech. “It’s no secret that she was not my preference for Speaker,� Clarke noted, “but when you have to choose from so many excellent colleagues it's a hard decision, and I knew that I would be satisfied with whoever ascended to power.�

Clarke added that she’s very happy the new Speaker is a woman who can relate to the issues from another perspective, and that she’s “excited about it, optimistic, and ready to work with her.�

Council Member Kendall Stewart commented that he’s been a friend of Christine Quinn’s ever since entering the council, and that they have an excellent relationship serving on the Health Committee. He too, was very impressed with her speech, especially with what she said about inclusiveness. “I am proud to know that we in the council can get all our differences and diversity together and choose someone of her caliber who can represent all New York,� he concluded.

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