But really, what’s Melissa Mark-Viverito doing next?
Photo by Celeste Sloman.
Before addressing the hundreds gathered inside the Kings Theatre in Flatbush for her final State of the City speech last month, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito playfully trolled attendees who had surely wasted a few breaths on one of the biggest questions in city politics: What will she do when term limits force her to leave the City Council at the end of 2017? In a celebrity-laden prerecorded video, Mark-Viverito clumsily tried out potential new careers in acting, comedy and basketball. But once on the stage, Mark-Viverito remained closemouthed about any future plans. In an interview with Nick Powell and Gerson Borrero on the New York Slant podcast, Mark-Viverito said she is focused on her key goals before her tenure ends in December. Here’s a look at how she described her goals for the next nine months – and beyond. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
C&S: It seems like you’re not set on what you want to do in the future.
MMV: Sometimes when I really reflect on it, I’m like, “Wow, what an incredible privilege, personally, to be able to serve and give myself to this city in this way.” So I want to continue to serve, and I want to continue to be influential. There’s a lot of projects that will not be completed when I leave office that I want to see fulfilled. Closing Rikers is critical. So I want to play a role in continuing to make sure that those things that I leave in place get done and fulfilled. But also I feel a real sense of urgency around the federal climate. With (President Donald) Trump being in the White House, I want to play some sort of a role in the work that needs to get done to push back. That has to crystallize a little more for me, but that is where some of my energy seems to be.
C&S: One of the pillars of your State of the City speech was that you were working with four of the five district attorneys to do away with outstanding warrants for low-level summonses. What’s the next step?
MMV: We’ve been saying very publicly, the mayor, myself, our police commissioner, that we’re not going to utilize city resources to enforce federal immigration law. So what we’ve also looked at is what are the things that we can do to try to limit people’s interaction with the criminal justice system as a way of not triggering the opportunity or opening up an opportunity for federal (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to come in and request information on people. So if you’re issued a summons for (littering or urinating in public), and you do not show up to court, you have an outstanding warrant. That means the next time you get stopped for any sort of infraction, you’re picked up and you have to go be processed and your fingerprints have to be processed. We negotiated with four out of the five DAs, so that any warrants that are 10 years or older, that we would clear them.
C&S: Is this in effect now or is there a process it needs to go through?
MMV: We have the agreement in place. We’re in the process of making sure it gets implemented.
The end goal here is to get us to the point where we can close Rikers down. That’s not going to happen overnight. So I’m going to continue playing a role. I’m not going away.
C&S: When you appear before the state Legislature, is this one of the topics you will discuss?
MMV: When it comes to, particularly, this concept of sanctuary cities, California has been doing some really exemplary work at a state level. I had sent a letter to the state leaders asking New York state to consider doing the same thing that California did. The reality is, we have a state Senate that’s controlled by the Republicans, who will not move forward with this concept. But there are things on the executive level that the governor probably could consider. We definitely would like him to lay out a more comprehensive agenda on ways that we can continue to support our immigrant communities.
C&S: You’ve convened a commission to examine closing the jail facilities on Rikers Island, which is slated to put out a report on its research. What do you hope to accomplish on this front before you leave office?
MMV: The end goal here is about creating a plan of action to get us to the point where we can close Rikers down. That’s not going to happen overnight. So I’m going to continue to be monitoring and playing a role. I’m not going away.
C&S: Have you spoken to City Council members who are running for your position to get an idea of whether they will continue to push your agenda, particularly the goal of closing Rikers, if they become speaker? Will you endorse someone based on this?
MMV: The body is still warm, OK, I’m here. So I’ve got work to do, and an agenda to fulfill. At some point, I’m going to weigh in. I’m sure I probably will. But I really haven’t focused on it. I’m not interested in having our institution go back. So obviously, yeah, that’s a factor for me, in terms of, I want to see that work continue. And I would love to see all of the speaker candidates embrace that.
C&S: Can we assume that you’ll be campaigning for Mayor Bill de Blasio as he seeks re-election?
MMV: Yes, I strongly support Mayor de Blasio. I’ve said that. We have been at odds on approaches to certain things, and some of our priorities may not necessarily align. But I believe in what he’s trying to accomplish. And I believe he’s trying to bring voices to the table that have been historically disenfranchised and create more equality.