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Possible Candidates For City Council Speaker Participate In Forum

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When the new City Council convenes in January, their first vote will be to choose a speaker. A forum was held in Queens Thursday to get to know the candidates. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.

A close ally of the mayor-elect, some say that that relationship might propel City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito into the speakership.

However, there are others standing in her way.

The major candidates did their best to sell their own candidacies during the race's first forum in Queens Thursday night.

"I am the progressive candidate for City Council speaker," Mark-Viverito said.

"I'm not going to argue Melissa is the most progressive of all of us, but I got a 20-year progressive record," said City Councilman Mark Weprin of Queens.

Dozens filled a community room in Jackson Heights to hear from the candidates, even though actual New Yorkers have no say in who the next Council speaker is. That's up to the City Council itself, a Council that most of the candidates on stage said needed to change, become more equal.

"I agree with my colleagues. There needs to be a definite change," said City Councilwoman Annabel Palma of the Bronx.

"Culturally, in the Council, what we need is for people not to fear that if they use the rules of the Council, that they will somehow be punished," said City Councilman Daniel Garodnick of Manhattan.

"I'm not going to do anything to weaken the New York City Council," said City Councilman James Vacca of the Bronx.

This race has already generated some controversy. At the Council's regular meetings, Mark-Viverito did not recite the Pledge of Allegiance until the race for speaker ramped up. The move was questioned by some colleagues.

"Whether I am in City Hall pledging to the flag or I'm in my living room watching a boxing match, I stand up and make sure that I honor my flag," Palma said.

Early Thursday, at its stated meeting, Mark-Viverito recited it but did not say the words "under God."

When asked about it at Thursday's forum, she initially did not want to respond to reporters' questions. She later spoke to NY1.

"It's a real shame that as the first Latina speaker candidate, that my patriotism would be questioned," she said. "We really don't need divisive politics right now."

The race is just ramping up. Several forums are scheduled for next week. The Council will officially select its leader in January.

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