Photo (cc) Courtney Gross
Day one for the City Council 2010 class felt like the first day of school.
Thirteen new members buzzed with excitement as they raised their right hand to take the oath of office. Many of them, including Margaret Chin of Lower Manhattan, will be serving in public office for the first time and even the roll call proved thrilling. When it was her turn, Chin, who was fifth from the top, answered "ay" with authority and a smile.
"It feels good. It feels good to be here," said Chin following the vote.
On Wednesday family members, friends and former politicos filed into the council chamber to officially recognize the new City Council -- a body that for the first time will have a majority of minority members, four members who are openly gay and one Queens politician (Karen Koslowitz) who starts a second stint in the same office. The body had only one official duty: to name a speaker.
As expected, the City Council voted 48 to 1 to re-elect Speaker Christine Quinn to a second, four-year term as leader -- a choice some council members saw as personal, while others said there was no one else more capable.
"To be able to sit here in the council chambers today and vote for someone who I was out there as a community organizer with is a very special thing," said Councilmember Daniel Dromm, a new member from Queens who said he has known Quinn for 20 years.
But like any first day, there were minor calamities, including police escorts and catcalls.
If Wednesday's meeting is any indication of what's to come, one thing is clear: The City Council class of 2010 is officially at bat, and some of its teammates are coming out swinging.
There may have been 48 members that wanted Quinn to get another term as speaker. But one, Councilmember Charles Barron, a former Black Panther, wasn’t about to let it happen quietly.
As expected, Barron nominated himself for the speaker position. Invoking the names of civil rights leaders, from Malcolm X to Percy Sutton whose funeral took place earlier in the day, Barron said his doomed candidacy was a symbolic gesture to emphasize the fact that no black or Latino leader held higher office in the city.
"I put my name in nomination for Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, for Rosa Parks, for Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party," said Barron. "For all of those who came before us and said that we must fight for our rights, and once we have that power we should use it."
The only vote Barron received was his.
After the votes were counted, Barron's supporters catcalled from the balcony, criticizing some of the black and Latino members who voted for Quinn. Police later escorted them out.
Undeterred, Quinn gave an approximately 10-minute address welcoming the new members to City Hall and congratulating old members on the last term's accomplishments, including the passage of a solid waste management plan, the council's fight against the centralization of senior centers and securing tax rebates for New York City's homeowners.
Quinn, whose close relationship with the mayor put her on an uneasy footing with some council members after the November election, also reaffirmed the new council's priorities.
"We'll make job creation our top priority, building on existing strengths, and seeking out new sectors that are ripe for economic growth," Quinn said. "We’ll expand affordable housing across the five boroughs and look for new opportunities in the wake of the housing crash. We’ll listen to the needs of small businesses, fighting unnecessary regulation and promoting tax reform."
While the new council boosts the number of black, Latino and Asians to 27, political observers also predict its incoming members will push the council towards a more progressive agenda. Simultaneously, the new council's Republican ranks grew from three to five.
On Wednesday, new and old members attempted to celebrate their first day as the new council with humility and humor. In a satirical gesture welcoming the new members, Minority Leader Jimmy Oddo gave a fake memoir to his new colleagues titled "Felder on Felder" -- a reference to outgoing Councilmember Simcha Felder who will be joining Comptroller John Liu's office as a deputy commissioner.
Third term members, like Erik Martin Dilan, said the energy from the new class gave them some perspective. "In some way seeing the turnover it helps rejuvenate me and remind me about why I was excited about doing what I do," Dilan of Brooklyn said.
And for others, it's a day they had been waiting for for years. Councilmember James Van Bramer, the new representative for the 26th district in Queens, said he had been waiting for "a long time" for this day.
"It's a very, very special day," Van Bramer said before being sworn in. "My mother is here." The newly elected member then pointed toward her across the chamber with a smile.
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