New York Times
The new group, called the Progressive Caucus, is starting with a membership of 12, who are all Democrats, or almost one-quarter of the 51-member body. A formal announcement will be made at the Council’s meeting on Thursday, said the two leaders, Councilman Brad Lander, a freshman member from Brooklyn, and Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan, who is in her second term.
The creation of the group, which includes seven members just elected in November, is meant to send a message to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, its organizers said.
“The mayor has done some good things — on the environment, on gun control,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said. “But there are some other issues where he hasn’t done a good job, and he’s lost sight of the poor, working class and middle class. So yes, this is a response because we don’t feel the city is going in the same direction as the majority wants.”
The caucus will be the first in recent memory to coalesce around ideology rather than racial or sexual identity, according to Council members. And by voting yes or no as a bloc, the caucus could establish a liberal litmus test for all Council members that could be easily tracked by future Democratic primary voters, who tend to skew left.
The group also demonstrates the clout of the labor-backed Working Families Party, which supported most of the members.
In addition to the two leaders, the members are Annabel Palma, from the Bronx; Letitia James and Jumaane D. Williams, from Brooklyn; Margaret Chin, Rosie Mendez and Ydanis Rodriguez, from Manhattan; Daniel Dromm, Julissa Ferreras and James G. Van Bramer, from Queens; and Deborah Rose, from Staten Island.
In an interview on Monday at Ms. Chin’s office in Chinatown, the members said that their distaste with Mr. Bloomberg’s successful push to rewrite term limits helped motivate them to organize. But more important, they said, was a desire to form a strategic alliance to accomplish their goals.
The caucus is now working on a set of by-laws. But the group has already drawn up what it calls a statement of principles. These include creating an economic policy that puts a focus on living-wage jobs and paid sick days, strengthening rent regulations, pushing for more housing for the poor, emphasizing police accountability and community input in criminal justice, supporting same-sex marriage and pushing for more accountability in budgeting and contracts.
“This is not necessarily antagonistic toward the speaker,” Mr. Lander said. “But of course the goal is to raise these issues so leadership pays real attention.”
When asked about the new caucus, a spokesman for the mayor, Stu Loeser, said: “One reason Mike Bloomberg has been able to get so much done is he doesn’t think that disagreeing with someone on one issue means you can’t work closely with them on others.
“We look forward to working with this new caucus on priorities we share, like the nation’s biggest affordable housing program and the furthest-reaching sustainability program at any level of government anywhere.”
Ms. Quinn, meanwhile, said in an interview that she did not view the caucus “as a threat.” By contrast, she said she anticipated agreeing with caucus members a vast majority of the time.
“I am a progressive,” Ms. Quinn said, “and I have an incredibly long record as a progressive I am extremely proud of.”
She later added: “I support any and all efforts or movements to help members become more effective, and get more done. That’s not a challenge to me; that’s exciting to me.”
But when asked about term limits being a factor in the group’s formation, Ms. Quinn, who helped Mr. Bloomberg amend the term limits law, said: “That’s an issue that was dealt with in the last session. I assume that the caucus will focus on the issues of this session.”
It is too early to tell whether other Council members will join, or whether some may react adversely. Indeed, caucus members say it is possible that centrist Democrats and the Council’s five Republicans could form their own caucus.
That kind of internal dynamism may turn out to be good for the Council, and even for Ms. Quinn, especially if she runs for mayor in 2013 and needs to tend to the liberal base of her party, said Kenneth Sherrill, a political scientist at Hunter College.
“If they stay cohesive, then they could become a party within a party,” Professor Sherrill said. “And for something as touchy as budget negotiations, they could be a strong organizational force. It’s certainly something that’s designed to get her attention, and that may be something that she welcomes.”