The New York City Council is the lawmaking body of the City of New York. It has 51 members from 51 council districts throughout the five boroughs. The Council serves as a check against the mayor in a "strong" mayor-council government model. The council monitors performance of city agencies and makes land use decisions as well as legislating on a variety of other issues. The City Council also has sole responsibility for approving the city budget and each member is limited to three consecutive terms in office and can run again after a four year respite.
The head of the City Council is called the Speaker, and is currently Christine Quinn, a Democrat. The Speaker sets the agenda and presides at meetings of the City Council. Proposed legislation is submitted through the Speaker's Office. There are 46 Democratic council members led by Majority Leader Joel Rivera. The five Republican council members are led by Minority Leader James Oddo.
The Council has 35 committees with oversight of various functions of the city government. Each council member sits on at least three standing, select or subcommittees (listed below). The standing committees meet at least once per month. The Speaker of the Council, the Majority Leader, and the Minority Leader are all ex officio members of every committee.
Council members are elected every four years, except for two consecutive two year terms every twenty years (starting in 2001 and 2003 and again in 2021 and 2023).
The history of the New York City Council can be traced to Dutch colonial days when New York City was called New Amsterdam.
On February 2, 1653, the town of New Amsterdam, founded on the southern tip of Manhattan Island in 1625, was incorporated as a city under a charter issued by the Dutch West India Company. A Council of Legislators sat as the local lawmaking body and as a court of inferior jurisdiction.
During the 18th and 19th centuries the local legislature was called the Common Council and then the Board of Aldermen. In 1898 the amalgamation charter of the City of Greater New York renamed and revamped the Council and added a New York City Board of Estimate with certain administrative and financial powers. After a number of changes through the ensuing years, the present Council was born in 1938 under a new charter which instituted the Council as the sole legislative body and the New York City Board of Estimate as the chief administrative body. Certain functions of the Council, however, remained subject to the approval of the Board.
A system of proportional representation known as Single Transferable Voting seated a 26-member Council in 1938 to serve two-year terms. The term was extended to four years in 1945 to coincide with the term of the Mayor. Proportional representation was abolished in 1947. It was replaced by a system of electing one Council Member from each State Senate district within the city. The Charter also provided for the election of two Council Members-at-large from each of the five boroughs. In June 1983, however, a federal court ruled that the 10 at-large seats violated the United States Constitution's one-person, one-vote mandate.
In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that the Board of Estimate also violated the one-person, one-vote mandate. In response, the new Charter abolished the Board of Estimate and provided for the redrawing of the Council district lines to increase minority representation on the Council. It also increased the number of Council Members from 35 to 51. The Council was then granted full power over the municipal budget, as well as authority over zoning, land use and franchises.
In 1993 the New York City Council voted to rename the position of President of the City Council to the Public Advocate. The Public Advocate presides over all stated meetings of the New York City Council. As the presiding officer, the Public Advocate is an ex officio member of all committees in the Council, and in that capacity has the right to introduce and co-sponsor legislation.
A two-term limit was imposed on City Council members and citywide elected officials after a 1993 referendum. In 1996, voters turned down a Council proposal to extend term limits. The movement to introduce term limits was led by Ronald Lauder, a cosmetics heir, who spent $4 million on the two referendums.
In 2008, however, at the urging of Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who, like many Council members, would have exhausted his two terms in 2009), the Council voted 29-22 to extend this limit to three terms, after defeating (by a vote of 22-28 with one abstention) an amendment to submit the issue to public referendum. Legal challenges to the extension failed in Federal court, and a proposed law in the New York State Legislature to override the extension was not passed.
Through several changes in title and duties, this person has been, together with the Mayor and City Comptroller, one of the three municipal officers directly elected by all of the City's voters, and also the person who — when the elected Mayor resigns, dies, or otherwise loses the ability to serve — becomes Acting Mayor until the next special or regular election.
Until 1989, these three officers, together with the five Borough Presidents, constituted the New York City Board of Estimate.
Political campaigns have traditionally tried to balance their candidates for these three offices to appeal as wide a range as possible of the City's political, geographical, social, ethnic and religious constituencies (and, when possible, to both sexes).
|Office||Start year||End year||Officer|
|President of the Board of Aldermen||1898||1901||Randolph Guggenheimer|
|1902||1905||Charles V. Fornes|
|1910||1912||John Purroy Mitchel|
|1912||1913||Ardolph L. Kline|
|1917||Frank L. Dowling|
|1918||Alfred E. Smith|
|1919||Robert L. Moran|
|1920||1921||Fiorello H. La Guardia|
|1925||William T. Collins|
|1926||1933||Joseph V. McKee|
|1934||1936||Bernard S. Deutsch|
|1937||William F. Brunner|
|President of the City Council||1938||1945||Newbold Morris|
|1946||1949||Vincent R. Impellitteri|
|1950||Joseph T. Sharkey|
|1962||1965||Paul R. Screvane|
|1966||1968||Frank D. O'Connor|
|1969||Francis X. Smith|
|1970||1973||Sanford D. Garelik|
|Public Advocate||1994||2001||Mark J. Green|
|2010||2013||Bill de Blasio [first term]|
This officer is elected by the members of the Council. It is not in the immediate line of succession to the mayoralty between elections.
|Start year||End year||Speaker|
|1986||2001||Peter Vallone, Sr.|
Council Members currently receive $112,500 a year in base salary, which the council increased from $90,000 in late 2006. Members can also receive tens of thousands of dollars in additional compensation “while serving as a committee chairperson or other officer…for the particular and additional services pertaining to the additional duties of such position.”