That was never more true than last week in the City Council, when committee posts were announced. Chairing a powerful committee comes not only with influence, but a nice little cash bonus known in the industry parlay as a “lulu.”
Two supporters of Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito's successful bid for speaker, Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras and Councilman David Greenfield, will head up the Finance Committee and the Land Use Committee, respectively. Those are widely considered to be the two most powerful and influential committees in the City Council.
But if you are just handing out committee assignments based on political patronage, are you really choosing the best person for the job?
Ferreras' appointment especially raised a few eyebrows. Ferreras was head of the board for the nonprofit Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment, or LIBRE, when the group was looted for over $100,000 by then-Councilman Hiram Monserrate.
Monserrate allocated $300,000 of city money to the nonprofit, then took $109,000 to pay people working on his campaign for State Senate. He was found guilty and sent to jail.
But, critics say, if Ferreras couldn't keep track of a six-figure sum in the budget for a relatively small nonprofit, how is she qualified to oversee a budget of $50 billion? Ferreras dismissed the recriminations, noting an investigation absolved her of any wrongdoing. That said, it also did find any “rightdoing” on her part, either.
Another early and strong supporter of Mark-Viverito was Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who in addition to chairing the Cultural Affairs Committee, is now majority leader. To give you an idea how lucrative these posts are, on top of their $112,500 annual salary, Van Bramer will “earn” an extra $20,000 a year, while Ferreras will pull in an additional $15,000.
But it's another supporter of Mark-Viverito that City Council watchdogs are saying is cashing in on his early support of the new speaker. Immediately after her election, Mark-Viverito announced that Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander would head up the Rules, Privileges and Elections Committee, the committee that would be in charge of handing out the coveted committee chairmanships.
Now, some are calling Lander a “shadow speaker,” theorizing that he is in Mark-Viverito's ear making all of the important decisions, wielding her like a puppet. Lander bristled at the accusation, stating in public reports that he thought such allegations were sexists and racist, and that if the speaker were a white male such theories would be laughable.
But a new post called Deputy Leader for Policy was created and awarded to Lander. In the role, he will be an ex-officio member of every single committee, a privilege that in past years was reserved for the speaker, majority and minority leaders. Sounds pretty powerful.
Lander will also make an additional $15,000 annually for his “work.”
That said, it wasn't as bad as it could have been for those who stuck with county leadership – which in the case of Queens and the Bronx were supporting Councilman Dan Garodnick – and held back their support for Mark-Viverito; only four of the 51 council members missed out on getting some sort of committee assignment.
All that said, to be fair there isn't much to politicking if you can't reward the people who stood behind you and supported you, even if it does gives the appearance that you are punishing those who showed dissent.