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Uber fight spills over creating rift among city politicians

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Photo by: Dennis A. Clark for New York Post

Just as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came up for air after concluding a fierce public relations fight against Uber on Wednesday night, the mayor found himself in yet another public spat, and this time with a close ally.

Speaking at a news conference at City Hall on Thursday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito publicly expressed her frustration with the mayor for downplaying the City Council’s role in the negotiations with Uber.

“I’m not going to allow anyone to attempt to save face at the expense of this council,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said. “I find it offensive as a woman, and as a Latina who is leading this legislative body, that somehow the impression is I was forced to my position.”

Ms. Mark-Viverito’s public airing of grievances against Mr. de Blasio offers a different kind of blow to Mr. de Blasio.

According to the New York Times, Mr. de Blasio and Ms. Mark-Viverito are close allies and the mayor was a major lobbying force behind Ms. Mark-Viverito’s election to City Council Speaker.

Earlier this month, the mayor and  exchanged public blows with New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Mr. de Blasio was in Vatican City when city officials and Uber representatives negotiated the deal on the eve of a City Council vote on two measures that would cap the number of new licenses granted to Uber drivers while the city performed a 14-month long environmental study on the impact that the industry is has had on city congestion and pollution.

After Uber fought the measure tooth and nail through an aggressive PR campaign that mobilized New Yorkers and left city politicians looking suspiciously cozy with the yellow taxi cab lobby, city legislators struck a deal with the car-service app allowing it to continue its expansion in the city.

Under the agreement, city legislators agreed to shelve the cap bill, allowing Uber to continue to expand at its current rate, and required Uber to cooperate with city officials on a four-month long study to assess the service’s impact on city traffic.

On Thursday Mr. de Blasio made several public appearances in which he adamantly denied that his administration had caved to Uber’s demands and where he stated that the cap measure was “not off the table” and that the bill could be revived if his administration deems it necessary.

“This Council decides what bills will be discussed, what debates we will have, what will be taken off the table, what will be put on the table,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said in response to the mayor’s comments.

The Response

According to the New York Times Ms. Mark-Viverito and Mr. de Blasio met on Friday afternoon, but details of the meeting were not disclosed.

“We look forward to continuing this collaboration to lift up more New Yorkers, tackle income inequality and move our city forward,” Mr. de Blasio’s press secretary, Karen Hinton, said in a statement on Friday.

Governor Cuomo, who publicly spoke against the Uber cap, also weighed on the mayor’s strained relationship Ms. Mark-Viverito.

“I thought she was being intelligent and deliberative and responsible,” he told NY1 on Thursday after he spoke with Ms. Mark-Viverito about “some ideas she had which were reflected in the final agreement with Uber.”

The Verdict

I can’t blame de Blasio for using the Uber agreement to score some public image rehab points because even though he denies it, he was browbeaten into submission by Uber’s vicious PR attacks.

But he should have done it in a more diplomatic way instead of driving a wedge between himself and the city council speaker, whom he depends on to secure the votes needed to further any future city legislation he may want to push through.

Although the mayor generally has City Council on his side, he just can’t afford to burn any more bridges.

He’s managed to upset some very high-profile city and state officials in a relatively small amount of time–individuals like Police Commissioner Bill Bratton (and the entire NYPD), the state’s governor, and now the City Council speaker–whom he should have on his team, if he is to peacefully and successfully govern this city for three terms.

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