Almost immediately after officially winning his new title, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson indicated that he would lead a legislative body more willing to challenge the mayor than the one under his predecessor.
While the decision to back Johnson emerged two weeks ago, the council member from Manhattan’s West Side officially crossed the threshold of votes needed to win the seat shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday, following more than a year of aggressive politicking, both overt and covert.
After an emotional speech, during which the openly gay, HIV-positive legislator thanked his mother for her unflagging support and began to lay out some policy goals, Johnson told reporters he planned to make the Council’s independence a priority, hold city agencies accountable and fight for members.
On Wednesday, Johnson said he would advance legislation even against Mayor Bill de Blasio, something his predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito, did only rarely, never provoking or chancing a veto.
“I’m fine with overriding vetoes,” Johnson said during his first Red Room press conference, after the charter meeting on Wednesday.
At the news conference, Johnson discussed one policy point he differs with the mayor on: congestion pricing.
The speaker said he has never owned a car and that he supports the full Move New York plan, with tolls on the East River bridges and into Manhattan’s Central Business District. At the same time, he acknowledged the concerns of outer-borough members, adding, “I’m not looking to ram something through.”
“I think it’s important that we disincentivize cars from coming into Manhattan, to the Central Business District below 96th Street, so I support tolling the East River bridges, the Move New York plan, which lessens the burden on outer-borough crossings,” he said.
Johnson promised more oversight of city agencies, a beefed up land use staff for the Council and more affordable housing.
“There has never been a more important time to ensure that our City has a strong, unified and independent Council to take on these challenges,” he said, referring to affordable housing, budget threats from Washington and income inequality. “We must defend these principles while renewing our focus on the hyper-local issues that our constituents ask us for help with every day. Residents of all neighborhoods are entitled to clean and safe streets, well-maintained public parks and city agencies that are responsive to their needs.”
Johnson, whose district stretches roughly from Hell’s Kitchen to SoHo, ran a tireless campaign, with many weekends spent stumping in his colleagues’ districts. He prevailed over eight other candidates, by a 48-1 vote.
Council Member Inez Barron, who recently entered the race, voted for herself. Council Member Jumaane Williams, who never conceded his own defeat in the race until Wednesday, and protested the election of a white speaker, blew off the vote and instead traveled to Albany for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s annual State of the State speech. Council Member Debi Rose was also not in attendance.
At Wednesday’s meeting, two members from Brooklyn officially put Johnson forward: Laurie Cumbo, who nominated him and, Robert Cornegy, who seconded that nomination. Two sources in the Council and one who closely follows it say that Cumbo will likely become majority leader, and Cornegy chair of the housing and buildings committee.
Johnson also named Council Member Rory Lancman of Queens to replace Brad Lander of Brooklyn as temporary chair of the rules committee.
Rep. Joe Crowley, the Queens party boss who helped put together Johnson’s victory, watched the meeting from the first row of the gallery. Johnson called him “one of the most decent, honorable, good guys,” prompting Crowley to stand, wave, and bow slightly.
Johnson’s win was also one for the Hotel Trades Council, which was heavily involved in his campaign. He name checked that union’s president, Peter Ward, in his remarks.
The next big news in the Council transition will be committee assignments, which Johnson said are still being hashed out, with many members after the same spots. He said he plans to meet with nearly every member over the next two days.