In Contentious Vote, City Council Approves Speaker’s Choice For Clerk

By Kieran K. Meadows

The City Council approved Speaker Christine Quinn’s (D-Manhattan) appointment of Michael McSweeney to the position of city clerk on Thursday, by a 32-16 vote. McSweeney, of Queens, has been the acting city clerk since the fall.

The vote was contentious—all but one member of the Council’s Brooklyn delegation voted no. They were joined by one Council member from the Bronx. The outcome exposed the ongoing conflict between borough delegations, but particularly between Brooklyn and the speaker.

Brooklyn Democratic Chair and Assemblyman Vito Lopez, along with Bronx Democratic Chair and Assemblyman Carl Heastie, had hoped to postpone the vote. They had been hoping to work out an agreement with the speaker regarding the city clerk position at a later date.

McSweeney is a former aide of Queens County Democratic Chair and U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley. Although Brooklyn has the largest delegation in the council, Quinn became speaker in 2006 by putting together a coalition between Manhattan and Queens. By giving the city clerk position to a Queens resident, the speaker is likely politically paying back the borough for its support.

The city clerk appoints the deputy city clerks in each borough, and they control a number of jobs. The clerk’s salary is also a handsome $185,700 – a nice reward for a loyal party player.

“When you deal with patronage, it’s a plum spot, because those are appointed jobs,” said Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island), as he stood in the lobby of City Hall before the vote. “It’s been said that that is the mother’s milk of politics, and quite frankly, it’s in full effect right here. There’s tons of meetings with the speaker, with the county [party] leaders in trying to come to an agreement on who will be the next city clerk.”

Earlier in the day, it was unclear whether or not the appointment would come to the floor for a vote. McSweeney’s appointment first had to pass the Rules Committee. As of Wednesday, the issue had not been placed on the committee’s agenda.

By 1 p.m. on Thursday, it was clear that the speaker was trying to work out a back room deal to cobble together enough votes in support of her appointment.

The stated meeting was delayed—and did not begin until close to 4:30 p.m.—and, as a result, many Council members spent much of the day walking in and out of City Hall.

“There’s a lot of ‘Hurry up and wait,’ ” said Councilman David Weprin (D-Queens), as he walked through the lobby.

Behind the scenes, however, there were ongoing meetings between Council members and the speaker.

“There’s a lot of arm-twisting going on,” said Doug Muzzio, a political analyst and professor at Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs, as he stood outside City Hall. “So it looks like this rules committee vote might be close.”

But the committee vote turned out not to be close – it was 11-3 in favor.

The first fireworks erupted when Councilman Lew Fidler (D-Brooklyn) voiced his opposition to McSweeney. Fidler prefaced his remarks by saying his opposition had nothing to do with McSweeney’s qualifications. Rather, Fidler said, he objected to the hurried process. He cited a Council rule that requires the public to be invited to speak about nominations when they go before committees.

Fourteen other Brooklyn Council members joined Fidler in opposition to McSweeney when the vote came to the floor. The only member of the Brooklyn delegation who voted in favor of the appointment was Councilwoman Diana Reyna, who is apparently feuding with Lopez, who was her former boss and political mentor.

Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) remained skeptical about the whole process, as he spoke before the final floor vote was held. He said the outcome was pre-determined behind the scenes, and that the floor vote was necessary only to go through the motions.

“Usually no vote hits the floor if the speaker doesn’t already have the votes for it,” Councilman Barron said. “They have vote counters – usually the chief of staff, the deputy chief of staff. They go to all of us: ‘How you voting?’ And they count: ‘Are you with it, against it?’ When they get up to 26, that’s the magic number, cause there’s 51 of us. When they get to 26, then they got to get a few extra to make sure it’s solid,” he said.

“So they don’t bring anything to the floor that’s not already a done deal.”

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