Bronx City Council members take the lead as committee chairs, inaugural deputy speaker

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Councilwoman Marjorie Velázquez, a member of the Bronx delegation tasked with a City Council leadership position, speaks with Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.
Photo John McCarten, New York City Council

In New York’s first female-majority City Council, nine of the leadership positions are being filled by members of the Bronx delegation.

Diana Ayala, who represents both East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx, is highest in the chain of command among Bronx representatives in the council, as deputy speaker, a newly created position. Ayala, who lives in East Harlem, is also chairing the General Welfare Committee.

While requests for comment from Ayala were unsuccessful, she told City and State last month that she didn’t know what the deputy speaker role entails. The City Council website does not provide a description of her role. But a City Council spokesperson told the Bronx Times on Tuesday that the deputy speaker sets the agenda and facilitates the City Council leadership team’s meetings, which allows for council leaders to provide meaningful input on legislation, council policies and organizational affairs.

“Deputy Speaker Ayala was appointed to this position in recognition of her leadership, the fact that she is respected amongst her colleagues, and has deep knowledge of the City Council,” Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, of Queens, said in a statement to the Bronx Times. “Her contributions, experience, and insights will be critical in helping lead this legislative body forward. I am excited to call her the first Deputy Speaker of our historic New York City Council.”

Adams is the first black person to be named City Council speaker.

Ayala was in the running to become speaker herself, but the Daily News reported that Ayala, along with council members Justin Brannan, Keith Powers and Gale Brewer, who were considered Adams’ top opponents, threw their support behind Adams after a strategy meeting. Powers is now the majority leader and chairs the Rules, Privileges and Elections Committee; Brannan chairs the Finance Committee, and Brewer chairs the Oversight and Investigations Committee.

Ayala isn’t the only council member in a leadership position representing the northernmost borough, however.

Marjorie Velázquez, a Throggs Neck Democrat, is chairing the Consumer Affairs and Worker Protection Committee; Eric Dinowitz, a Riverdale Progressive is chairing the Higher Education Committee; Rafael Salamanca Jr., a Longwood Progressive, is chairing the Land Use Committee; Amanda Farías, a Parkchester Progressive, is chairing the Economic Development Committee; Fordham Progressive Pierina Sanchez is chairing the Housing and Buildings Committee; Althea Stevens, a Concourse Village Progressive, is chairing the Youth Services Committee; Kevin Riley, a Baychester Democrat, is chairing the Zoning and Franchises Land Use subcommittee, and Oswald Feliz, a Fordham Democrat, whose district has suffered the impacts of the Twin Parks North West fire, is chairing a Fire Prevention task force.

Dinowitz, a former teacher, said the Higher Education Committee focuses on CUNY, ensuring the needs of students, faculty and the city are all met.

“We want to make sure that our students come out of college prepared for good paying stable employment and to have the skills to be creative and innovative in our city,” Dinowitz said.

He said collaborating with private industry, like tech companies, can help college students become competitive applicants.

Dinowitz emphasized the role of mental health support for students to succeed, and said CUNY serves different functions in the city, like providing citizenship resources through Citizenship Now.

Velázquez, who co-chaired a nine-hour-long hearing with Riley on Tuesday regarding the city’s Open Restaurants Program for outdoor dining, stressed the importance of bringing all stakeholders to the table to discuss the issue at hand. She said her Consumer Affairs and Worker Protection Committee seeks to protect buyers and workers alike, from delivery workers to freelancers, healthcare patients and workers.

“When we look at industries, we oftentimes forget that healthcare is also an industry,” she said.

Ultimately, she wants people to be reminded that they are entitled to protection, whether it’s a safe working environment or fair treatment as a consumer, pointing to a recent shooting at Jacobi Medical Center and COVID-19 test price gouging.

In a statement, Salamanca said he will advocate for historically underserved communities through the Land Use Committee, pointing to the need for “quality, truly affordable housing” exacerbated by the pandemic.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues to shape and create appropriate, pro-community development within their districts,” he said.

Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.

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