The City Council is the legislative body of New York City. The Council is on equal footing with the Mayor in governing the city. Specifically, the Council has the power to approve the budget, monitor land use and city agencies, and enact local laws. Because New York City makes up such a significant percentage of New York State’s population and tax revenue, there is constant back-and-forth between the City Council and the State Legislature regarding jurisdiction. The Mayor’s congestion pricing plan, which would have charged vehicles entering lower Manhattan during certain hours of the day, passed the City Council, but was rejected by the State. Conversely, the State Legislature routinely passes laws which single out NYC by wording the legislation as affecting only “cities with a population over 1 million.” Currently, NYC is the only city in New York State with a population over 1 million.
The roots of the current city council can be found in the colony of New Amsterdam. In 1653, New Amsterdam was chartered as a city by the Dutch West India Company. A Council of Legislators was established as a legislative and judicial body. In 1938, the Council became the chief legislative body while the Board of Estimate was chartered as the chief administrative body. The Board was given the power to approve certain actions of the Council. At the time, the Council had 26 members based on proportional representation with each serving two-year terms. In 1945, the two-year terms were extended to four-year terms and in 1949, proportional representation was abolished when the Council started using the state Senate districts already located in the city. One member was elected from each of the State Senate districts with and additional two at-large members from each of the five boroughs.
In 1989, in a case known as Board of Estimate of City of New York vs. Morris, the Supreme Court ruled that this administrative body was unconstitutional. Giving equal representation to the boroughs of Brooklyn, the city’s most populous, and Staten Island, the city’s least, constituted a violation of the 14th amendment. Under a new charter effective the next year, the Board of Estimate was dissolved and the City Council assumed most of the Board of Estimate’s former responsibilities. This rechartering increased the Council from 35 to 51 members and also allowed for more minority representation. The Council was granted its current powers of budget approval and land use review.
In 1993, a two-term limit was imposed on the Council and other city-wide elected offices by voter referendum. However, in 2008, the Council returned to this issue and voted to extend term limits to three terms (which also applied to the Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller).
Current City Council
Today, the City Council has the power to approve the budget, oversee land use and city agencies, and to make and pass laws. Most of this is accomplished in committee. There are various standing committees, sub-committees, select committees, and panels, at least three of which each Council member is a part.
There are currently 46 Democratic members, three Republican members, and one Working Families member of the Council. The 10th Council District recently became vacant when Miguel Martinez (D) stepped down. There are 10 City Council Members in Manhattan, 8 in the Bronx, 14 in Queens, 16 in Brooklyn, and 3 on Staten Island.
The head of the City Council is known as the City Council Speaker and is elected by the councilmembers themselves. Currently the Speaker is Melissa Mark-Viverito. The New York City Public Advocate, currently Letitia James, presides over Council meetings and can introduce legislation. The Majority Leader (who serves as head of the Council Democrats) is Jimmy Van Bramer and the Minority Leader (who serves as head of the Council Republicans) is Steven Matteo. The Speaker, Public Advocate, and Majority and Minority Leaders are ex-officio members of every committee.
For updates and additional information such as a listing of the City Council Committees, please visit the City Council’s Website. There you can also search legislation.