February 3, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – New City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito entered office earlier this week with enough progressive cred to choke both the Koch brothers – but according to the man who "quarterbacked" her successful campaign to win the coveted position, the first Latina ever elected to citywide office got there via an intensive five-borough press that convinced a broad spectrum of folks that the Bronx product would be the “kind of speaker that they would want.”
From her days as a strategic organizer for 1199 SEIU, to her co-founding of the New York City Council Progressive Caucus, Mark-Viverito has come to epitomize the kind of candidate that pro-labor groups desperate to turn the page on the brutal Giuliani/Bloomberg era have been yearning for.
Energetic groups like Make the Road New York, Working Families Party, 32BJ, the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, New York Communities for Change and 1199 SEIU, pushed Mark Viverito’s candidacy hard – convinced that she would fight to help raise the minimum wage, expand paid sick leave, confront economic inequality and more.
Still, the councilwoman from Puerto Rico who was first elected in 2005, needed something more to ensure the speakership – and the job of orchestrating that effort went to political consultant Jon Del Giorno of Pitta Bishop Del Giorno & Giblin LLC.
“What Melissa needed to do was get a five borough plan of action,” Del Giorno says. “We made sure that every major think tank, business group, trade association, union that didn't know her, advocates – as well as various borough clergy and civic leaders – got to meet her in a period of less than eight weeks.”
As the January 8 vote for New York City Council Speaker neared, many people were surprised at the level of citywide support that Mark-Viverito had actually garnered.
As it turned out, support from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s hometown of Brooklyn would prove pivotal in the new speaker's eventual 51-0 victory. But according to Del Giorno, the District 8 representative had already racked up over 27 votes before the Brooklyn organization ultimately threw its support behind his candidate.
“A lot of folks said, ‘Well, it was the mayor sending an indication,’” Del Giorno says. “Yeah, the mayor sending an indication was very helpful – but I also think Melissa spent a lot of months working with members of the Brooklyn delegation convincing them that she would be the kind of speaker they would want in order to help them – whether or not they were from the progressive block.”
Speaking of the Brooklyn delegation, Del Giorno’s political strategy also helped a number of Brooklyn notables in their races – including Public Advocate Letitia James, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Councilman Chiam Deutsch and Councilman Vincent Gentile.
Another Brooklynite – Bill Thompson – did not fare as well, however.
“One thing about Melissa, she’s an amazing listener,” Del Giorno adds. “We rolled out in the last three weeks of the campaign, a whole host of individuals that I think people were very surprised about from all the five boroughs, supporting Melissa’s speakership. I think that was a key factor in pulling this off.”
Although it was a major challenge, Del Giorno says that after earning the trust of progressives – the campaign recognized early on that the pages of LaborPress could be an effective platform to reach them – the new City Council Speaker also worked very hard making others understand who she is, and what she is really all about.
“She’s never stood in the way of an economic development project,” the ace politico says. “But she made sure that there was local hiring, she made sure that things that would benefit the community actually happened.”
With the assent of progressive candidates like Mark-Viverito, Del Giorno believes that organized labor and other labor-friendly groups have finally regained their footing in NYC.
“I think they went back to the basics about how to message and how to elect people,” Del Giorno says.