While New Yorkers won't be able to vote for City Council Speaker, they get a big chance tonight to see six of the candidates when they take the stage of the Transition Tent in SoHo to square off in a forum that will be aired live by NY1 at 7 p.m.
It's a departure from recent campaigns for Speaker: both Gifford Miller and Christine Quinn were able to master the political game from within, successfully winning the support of several of the five powerful Democratic county leaders who hold sway over many of their respective Council members.
A group of 20 Council members is trying to counter that sway by creating the Progressive Caucus, a left-leaning coalition that is promoting openness in the selection of a new speaker. Somewhat ironically, the group has hired a lobbyist to negotiate with the county leaders. And two of the caucus members – Melissa Mark-Viverto and Jumaane Williams -- members are actively running for the job.
Tonight's forum is in many ways an audition for the speakership for the city's Democratic powerbrokers and a chance for the candidates to practice their best Sam Rayburn imitation and appear most like a tough and shrewd legislative leader. But the good news for the candidates is they don't necessarily need a good canned line or a gotcha moment -- and forget about focus groups: they only need to appeal to the other 45 Council members who aren't on stage. And it's important to remember that someone who appears mayoral or presidential wouldn't necessarily be a good leader of a legislature. (Could you imagine Sheldon Silver in the governor's chair or Andrew Cuomo running the State Assembly?)
The relationship between the Council and the mayor will be interesting next year because for the first time in 20 years, both sides of City Hall will be run by Democrats. Does the next speaker see him or herself as an adversary or a partner with the new mayor? What in Bill de Blasio's agenda is appealing to the candidates and what is missing from his to-do list? These are the kinds of questions that will hopefully be tackled tonight in the Transition Tent. It's a debate worth watching – especially if you're already missing campaign season -- and we'll have a half-hour analysis show right afterwards at 8 p.m.