Democratic county leaders were finalizing a deal to back Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, for the speaker post. (Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News)
By Erin Durkin
December 21, 2017
The vote for speaker hasn’t been taken yet, but City Councilman Corey Johnson may already be the winner.
Democratic county leaders were finalizing a deal Wednesday to back Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, for the post, sources said — and their support will likely bring the votes of enough Council members to put Johnson over the top.
Johnson is one of eight candidates in the running for the job to replace departing Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. The speaker choice won’t be official until the Council votes in January. But Johnson and county leaders were telling allies Wednesday the deal was in place, sources said.
Queens County Party chair Joe Crowley and Bronx chair Marcos Crespo have thrown their support behind Johnson, sources said, carrying a block of votes with them. Manhattan party leader Keith Wright also supports him.
Johnson, 35, got a call from Crowley, a congressman from Queens, affirming his support while meeting with the Uniformed Firefighters Association on Wednesday and told the labor group he had secured the votes to win, sources said. The firefighters union also endorsed him.
Additionally, the Council’s three Republicans are expected to support Johnson.
Johnson and his county backers believe they now have the support of at least 34 members on the 51-person Council, sources said. Johnson declined to comment.
Brooklyn’s Democratic Party organization, which has been backing Councilman Robert Cornegy, was not a part of the deal. Cornegy was not ready to throw in the towel Wednesday. “Nothing has happened between yesterday and today to change the dynamics in the speaker’s race. We continue to run our positive, vigorous campaign to make history,” said the Brooklyn pol, who would be the Council’s first black speaker.
Mayor de Blasio - who four years ago teamed with the Council's progressive caucus to annoint Mark-Viverito, but this time around was out of town in Iowa when the deal was finalized - refused to answer questions about it Wednesday.
Johnson was elected in 2013 to the seat representing Chelsea, Midtown, and the Village. He is gay and HIV positive, and has spoken openly about his past struggles with addiction.
He grew up in Middletown, Mass., and like de Blasio, is a Red Sox fan. While still a teen, he made headlines for coming out as gay while he was co-captain of his high school football team.
Johnson aggressively courted colleagues for the speaker’s post, and backers believe his combative style, coupled with his ability to turn on the charm, will make him an effective balance to de Blasio, though he has also alienated some with his high-octane style.
He also has turned on the cash, with his 2017 campaign donating the maximum allowed amount in an election cycle — $2,750 — to 19 Council members seeking reelection. In addition, he gave the maximum contribution to six candidates running for a Council seat for the first time. Johnson has also doled out $13,125 to local Democratic clubs.
The Daily News has reported that the speaker candidate once piled up debts with a former landlord and was accused of having a former campaign volunteer pay his rent. Johnson’s campaign also paid for a criminal defense lawyer last year to represent a former campaign manager in two city probes.
A group of seven labor unions threw their backing behind three other candidates — Mark Levine, Donovan Richards and Ritchie Torres — in an effort to thwart Johnson’s bid. Also in the race are Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens, Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan, all Democrats.
Levine, Rodriguez, Richards and Van Bramer all threw their support behind Johnson Wednesday night. "I know the City Council will benefit from his passion, his fighting spirit, and his smarts," tweeted Levine, who was seen as one of his chief rivals.
But Johnson was viewed as one of the front-runners from the start.
“He’s got the intellect. He’s got one of the finest political senses I’ve ever seen,” said Wright, the Manhattan leader and ex-Assemblyman, who endorsed him months ago. Unlike Queens and the Bronx, the Manhattan members do not typically vote as a block.
“The dude works 24 hours a day in politics. At least I take time off for dinner. I don’t think he does,” he said. “He’s always working that phone.”
Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club and an LGBT activist, said he got to know Johnson soon after the now-Councilman moved to New York in his early 20s and quickly knew he’d be a rising political star.
“He’s so smart,” Roskoff said. “Corey knows how to make everybody in the room feel important.”