Staff Reporter of the Sun
May 5, 2008
Speaker Christine Quinn, in a bid to salvage her political career amid speculation that City Council members are considering ousting her, is caving in to pressure from members regarding her plan to give mayoral officials more authority over the council's disbursement of public funds.
In backing down, Ms. Quinn, a likely mayoral candidate, appears to be responding to the most serious threat to her leadership yet: a meeting of the Black, Latino, and Asian caucus held during the weekend that was called to discuss the possibility of acting against the speaker, according to a council member who asked not to be identified.
In advance of the meeting, Ms. Quinn began calling caucus members to assure them she would not go ahead with her previously announced plan, which had triggered a backlash from members who said they felt she was stripping them of their authority.
"She called to assure people that the announcement she made on April 11 — which was that so-called set of reforms — was premature and ill-advised and she was not going to pursue it any longer," Council Member John Liu of Queens, who is on the caucus, said. He said he did not receive a call from the speaker.
A spokesman for Ms. Quinn, Andrew Doba, said yesterday that the speaker is working with other council members on a package that would make the budget process more transparent.
"These conversations are ongoing and will continue," Mr. Doba said.
A council member who attended the Saturday meeting of the Black, Latino, and Asian caucus said there was no talk of removing Ms. Quinn from her seat, but the meeting nevertheless is adding fuel to a growing sense among council members and aides that the speaker is in danger of losing her seat.
"To say that there haven't been discussions about people grousing and complaining and saying, 'What if?' That would be a lie," Council Member Lewis Fidler of Brooklyn, who said he is supporting Ms. Quinn, said. "There are a lot of different 'What ifs,' and now is not the time to go into them."
Further feeding the rumor mill about Ms. Quinn's future are members who have been inquiring about how they could go about removing the speaker from office, a question that is unanswered by the City Charter, a council source said.
The source said that council members looking to end Ms. Quinn's run as speaker would be advised to collect votes from at least 34 members, a veto-proof majority, to ensure passage even if a few members defected at the last moment.
A member in favor of ousting Ms. Quinn would make a motion on the floor of the council and ask the rules committee to convene so that a new speaker could be formally elected, the source said.
Several names are being floated as potential council speakers. There is speculation that a first-term council member of Harlem, Inez Dickens, is eyeing the speaker's seat and could be helped along by Rep. Charles Rangel, who endorsed Ms. Dickens when she ran for the council in 2005.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Dickens said the council member is not trying to replace Ms. Quinn as speaker.
Two second-term council members of Brooklyn, Mr. Fidler and Bill de Blasio, also come up in conversations about potential successors to Ms. Quinn.
Ms. Quinn told The New York Sun yesterday that she feels "very secure" in her position.
"I am working very closely with all of my colleagues and not only am I very confident in my position as speaker but very confident that we are going to get through this tough time and come out with a budget process that allows us to keep supporting important institutions but is even more transparent," she said.
Ever since it was first disclosed last month that the council had stashed millions of public dollars behind fictitious organizations in the city's budget to create a slush fund for the speaker, Ms. Quinn's mayoral aspirations and political future have been considered to be on shaky ground.
Her standing among members plummeted when she proposed giving mayoral officials more authority over the disbursement of some council funds by having them oversee a competitive proposal process for the money.
Adding to Ms. Quinn's worries, she now faces the possibility of being called before a judge to testify about the council's budget practices. A former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Norman Siegel, filed a motion requesting a judicial inquiry into the council's
appropriation of city funds to fictitious organizations. If approved, Mr. Siegel is requesting that 11 officials take the stand, including Ms. Quinn, to answer questions under oath related to the fake organizations.
Another council member, Eric Gioia of Queens, is calling for Ms. Quinn to certify the accuracy of the budget this year, much like corporate CEOs are required to do under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
Council members and aides predicted that despite all the talk about Ms. Quinn's precarious hold on the speaker's seat, she wouldn't face an attempted coup. One council member said it was unlikely members would be successful at organizing a unified opposition to Ms. Quinn, while another posited that no one would want to lead the council at such a difficult time.
The council is under investigation by the U.S. attorney's office and Department of Investigation.
"There is a strong sentiment that this is a huge mess that Chris has to clean up," Mr. Liu said. "I'm not really sure who else would want to be stuck with the mess."