As the Big Apple battled back from the pandemic, implemented sprawling vaccine requirements, reopened schools, endured epic flooding and contended with a crisis at the Rikers Island jail — the City Council posted its least productive summer in two decades, a Post analysis reveals.
The Council and its committees met or were scheduled to meet just 61 times between July and the end of September, the fewest number of hearings and meetings since 2003 when it held 57.
It’s a massive decline from the Council’s pre-pandemic workload, the records show.
City lawmakers scheduled 91 meetings and hearings over the three-month period in 2019, 87 in 2018 and 91 again in 2017.
It’s even less productive than the Council was last summer, 2020, when it managed to hold 72 meetings and hearings amid the devastating aftermath from the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the city’s initial attempts to reopen.
Council insiders and longtime observers lay the massive drop off squarely at the feet of Speaker Corey Johnson, whose light summer schedule contrasted sharply with regular sightings in Provincetown, Mass., a summer hot spot on Cape Cod.
A Johnson spokeswoman claimed that Johnson’s nearly four-year tenure running the Council had been more productive than those of his two predecessors, former speakers Melissa Mark-Viverito and Christine Quinn.
“The Post is using a narrow definition of what the Council does in an attempt to discredit the institution,” said Kate Lucadamo. “The Council and Speaker are proud of the work they did this summer and every day on behalf of New Yorkers.”
Still, Johnson’s office only sent out two daily schedules to reporters between July 1 and Aug. 30, on July 29 and Aug. 26, which were the only two days the City Council formally met to approve legislation during those two months.
After publication, his office clarified that he also attended a hearing on July 27 that was not advised on his public calendar.
A Post reporter spotted Johnson exiting the building within minutes of the Aug. 26 Council meeting’s end, carrying a weekend bag marked ‘VIP’ and having already swapped his suit and tie for shorts, a T-shirt and sneakers.
“Who sets the priorities? It’s Corey. At the end of the day, the Speaker has to add a level of urgency to the Council,” said one.
“It’s hard to run the New York City Council when you’re always running off to Provincetown,” said another. “It’s impossible to do anything because no one is doing anything.”
A third source brought up the frequent trips to Cape Cod unprompted when discussing the massive slowdown in Council activity.
“It would be tough to be away and be super engaged — and that didn’t happen either,” the person said.
“He used to be a key directional point for us on where we’re going as a body and where we can conduct consistent oversight, and that hasn’t happened as much,” said a fourth.
Insiders said Johnson’s inattentiveness compounded logistical issues caused by the temporary return to in-person hearings over the summer and struggles keeping termed-out lawmakers engaged with just months left on the job.
More than half of the City Council’s 51 seats will change hands next year because of the Big Apple’s term-limits law.
“There were definite logistical challenges that definitely needed the Speaker’s undivided attention and it didn’t get that,” added a fifth.
Johnson’s defenders say it’s been difficult to get lawmakers to show up to hearings — even when they have been held.
For instance, just two council members posed questions to city officials during a recent hearing on the city’s response to its intertwined mental health and homelessness crises.
But the dropoff in hearings and oversight has been glaring to most inside and outside the Council.
There have been no hearings scheduled so far to examine the city’s response to the coronavirus over the summertime, its vaccination campaign or readiness for a potential new wave of pandemic cases.
And the few key oversight hearings the Council did hold only came about after weeks of public pressure.
Council members held only one hearing examining plans to reopen the city’s schools on Sept. 1, just two weeks before kids and teachers were set to return to campus.
The first and, so far, only hearing on the operational and safety meltdown at the notorious Rikers Island jail complex came on Sept. 15, after weeks of coverage about the crisis.
“There’s a lot going on in the city right now. It’s a difficult time for the city with COVID, there’s a lot going on,” Johnson said on Sept. 9, responding to questions about why the hearing was so late in coming.
“I guess we could always do things more quickly but that’s not the way I’m looking at it,” he continued. “I want to make sure we have a really good, thoughtful, important hearing that gets information out, that comes together with a short-term and long-term action plan to change the trajectory on Rikers Island.”
Johnson did not end up attending the hearing.
By the numbers
The number of meetings and hearings held by the New York City Council and its committees and subcommittees during Johnson’s speakership, according to public schedules.
For joint committee meetings, each committee that attended was counted separately for all years in the analysis.
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