Winner in City Council contest — for most contributions to fellow members

In the contest for City Council Speaker, one rumored hopeful has taken an unmistakable lead — at least in the amount of money he has lavished on fellow council members.

Since February, Manhattan Councilmember Dan Garodnick has shelled out some $34,500 in donations to 21 current and likely members of next year’s City Council. That money could matter after current speaker Christine Quinn steps down on December 31, and the new council votes for its leader.

Garodnick’s generosity was made possible by a sizeable campaign account amassed during his aborted run for the office of city Comptroller. Even after the spending spree, his treasury still holds nearly $900,000.


Manhattan City Councilmember Dan Garodnick, here at the July opening of a Second Avenue subway public information center, has lavished nearly $35,000 in campaign contributions on fellow council candidates. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Flickr

“Certainly showing a commitment and a support of your fellow members’ campaigns is the kind of thing they’ll remember,” New York City political consultant Steven Stites said of Garodnick’s beneficiaries.

Money isn’t everything in the race to be council speaker. Democratic Party organizations in the counties hold sway over many in their delegations. Garodnick has much at stake in Tuesday’s race for Public Advocate, where a loss for candidate Tish James could compel the council to make sure that it selects a nonwhite speaker to ensure racial diversity in the city’s top leadership.

Even in the money race, Garodnick has a rival to worry about: Queens Councilmember Mark Weprin has distributed about $25,000 to the campaigns of 14 council incumbents and hopefuls, plus generous donations of $10,000 each to the Bronx and Brooklyn Democratic Parties and the labor-backed Working Families Party.

Stites says the gifts could well put Garodnick, or Weprin, over the top.

“If Letitia James and Bill de Blasio win, then you’re going to have two very progressive, very left-of-center Democrats as the number-one and number-two office holders in the city, also from the borough of Brooklyn,” Stites said. “You then might have a lot of emphasis for a more centrist council member who is not from Brooklyn.”

Garodnick’s donations to council members have come in a steady trickle since February, through the September 10 primary election. The campaigns of members Donovan Richards, Rosie Mendez, Darlene Mealy and Stephen Levin each obtained the maximum contribution of $2,750 from Garodnick. Garodnick has also bestowed contributions ranging between $75 and $1,500 to the campaigns another 10 incumbents: Julissa Ferreras, Maria Arroyo, Fernando Cabrera, Sara Gonzalez, Deborah Rose, Ydanis Rodriguez, Annabel Palma, Stephen Levin, Brad Lander and Andrew King. With the exception of Gonzalez, all of them won their primary election contests and are likely to retain their seats in November.

The speaker hopeful has delivered the maximum donation of $2,750 to five nominees for open seats who are likely to win: Andrew Cohen, Costa Constantinides, Vanessa Gibson, Mark Levine and Antonio Reynoso. Brooklyn’s Christopher Banks also received a donation for that amount, but was defeated in the primary by Inez Barron, currently a member of the state Assembly. And the campaign of Assemblyman Rafael Espinal obtained $1,000.

Weprin’s list of top beneficiaries is almost identical to Garodnick’s. Also receiving boosts are former colleagues from his time in the state Assembly, Micah Kellner (who lost the primary) and Alan Maisel (who won).

Other rumored or confirmed contenders to the speaker’s position have not been contributing funds on the same scale, if at all. James Vacca, a two-term Democratic member of the council from the Bronx cruising towards re-election who has openly announced his interest in becoming speaker, has made just three donations totaling $6,500 to future council members, and none in the last six months.

Annabel Palma and Jumaane Williams, also reported to be angling for the top job, each made a single donation — she to an incumbent, he to a defeated candidate.

Confirmed speaker hopeful Inez Dickens as well as rumored candidates Jimmy van Bramer and Melissa Mark-Viverito did not contribute to campaigns of other candidates.

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