Max & Murphy: An Insider on the Speaker’s Strategy

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Eric Koch, former Council communications director for NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Around this time four years ago, veteran strategist and press aide Eric Koch was called in to help with media relations for Melissa Mark-Viverito in the final stages of her campaign to become Council speaker—starting the gig the very day the East Harlem Councilmember announced she had the votes to become the next head of the city legislature. Koch met his new boss 10 minutes before she stepped in to City Hall, where she was besieged by the press. She’d gone from being a relatively obscure lawmaker to one leader of the nation’s largest city, and suddenly she was no longer chasing media coverage but having it chase her.

This is one of the key tests a Council leader has to pass, Koch told the Max & Murphy podcast on Friday. “The speaker’s race is very much a trial run,” he said. Dealing with the media is one skill speakers need to have. Meeting with the public, as the current crop of speaker hopefuls are doing at forum after forum, is another.

Koch, who is now in the private sector, defended the role Mark-Viverito has played in moderating the desires of some of her members and maintaining a cordial relationship with the mayor. “She has to think about the big picture, has to see over the horizon and has to take into account things that maybe a member wouldn’t take into account.”

The next speaker will face a different dynamic — a mayor in his final term and a membership that will mostly be term-limited out of office in 2021. “I think we’ll see a Council — and I don’t mean this as a negative — looking out for themselves,” he said. Not that they won’t be doing good work, he’s quick to insist. Just that many members are likely to be thinking of their future in a more immediate way. “It might be a little more combative for the sake of being combative.”

Hear Koch’s talk with me and Ben Max of Gotham Gazette below.

(As always, the theme song is “MCM” by D. Merritt/Fort Indy)

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