The race to replace the speaker of the City Council, Gifford Miller, who has two and a half months left as the second most powerful elected official in the five boroughs, has entered a new phase.
With the Democratic primaries over and eight new council members favored to win seats in the general election, the handful of contenders who seek to replace Mr. Miller now have their council chessboard pieces more clearly arranged.
Although the contest has historically been decided in the eleventh hour, those jockeying for the job are working to convince their colleagues that they are the most qualified and that they have the best shot of winning. The reward for helping to elect the winner is usually plum committee assignments, pork for local projects, and perks from the speaker during the four-year term.
Council Members Christine Quinn of Manhattan and Bill de Blasio of Brooklyn are said to be the favorites, but political analysts said the other five in the running - David Weprin, Melinda Katz, and Leroy Comrie, all of Queens; Lewis Fidler of Brooklyn, and Joel Rivera of the Bronx - cannot be counted out.
The contest is like no other election. Rather than shaking hands at subway stops and parades, the candidates must win more than 26 votes, a majority of the 51-member body, to secure the position.
The vote usually takes place at the first council meeting of the new session in January.
In many cases, the wooing begins years prior to the vote, when those eyeing the job begin to ensure that they have good relationships with other members. The courtship, however, also includes county political bosses, labor leaders, and any other players with influence over council members, including real estate developers, who often make sizable campaign contributions to candidates.
"The public really does not have a say in helping to elect speaker," the executive director of the nonpartisan Citizens' Union, Dick Dadey, said. "It happens with the City Council members' cutting deals and forming alliances."
The labor unions, like the Service Employees International Union Local 1199, which represents health care workers, and its sister union, 32BJ, which represents building workers, have significant input because their well-oiled political machines help elect many council members.
"The labor unions have become more effective at raising money, delivering votes, and providing election support to council members," Mr. Dadey said.
The candidates have been tight-lipped about how many solid commitments they have, and deciphering where loyalties lie and where outside pressure is being applied can be like putting together a puzzle with a thousand small pieces. The recent conviction of Brooklyn's Democratic Party leader, Clarence Norman, is one of many factors that could shake things up.
Earlier this week, one of the candidates for speaker, Mr. Comrie, the only African-American running, confirmed that he has hired the former chief of staff to Mr. Miller, Forest Taylor, as a consultant for the next few months.
In 2001, Queens County tipped the balance for Mr. Miller. In exchange, the county's council members were given the two most powerful council committees to head - the Land Use Committee and the Finance Committee. The question many political observers have now is whether Queens will cut a similar deal or back one of its own members.
"Quite frankly, I don't think there'll be anything done until the end of the year," the executive secretary of the Queens County Democratic Party, Michael Reich, said. "Anyone who thinks it will happen before then is foolish."
Mr. Reich denied the rumor that the party has struck a deal with the Bronx party leader to get behind the same candidate and leverage their power together. He also denied that the party is making a commitment to abolish or extend term limits a condition of its support. When asked whether choosing the speaker was a "high-stakes game of poker" between the party bosses, as one reader wrote to The New York Sun, he said it was not.
Several of the candidates for the post have amassed large bank accounts and made political contributions to their colleagues, donated to candidates vying for open seats, and given money to political clubs in boroughs other than their own.
Ms. Katz, for example, has raised more than $630,000 and has donated thousands of dollars to nearly two dozen council members and candidates.
Mr. Weprin has donated to about the same number of members and doled out contributions to three new candidates who are favored to win their general elections. Ms. Quinn and Mr. de Blasio have sprinkled around contributions too.
Ms. Quinn, for example, gave to Jessica Lappin, a top aide to Mr. Miller, and to Daniel Gardonick. Both are Democrats who won their East Side primaries last month. She gave Mr. Gardonick, who faces a competitive general election against Patrick Murphy, a Republican, the maximum $2,750 donation.
One council member, who asked not to be named, said the donations tell only part of the story.
"The campaign finance records are just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "There's introducing candidates to donors, there's providing volunteers. Direct contributions are just a small piece of the puzzle. The financial picture involves more than just the $2,750 that one can give." Unlike in 2001, when term limits forced more than 30 members out of office, only eight members are leaving the council this year and several of the candidates for the speaker supported the same candidates who are running to replace them.
One member-elect, Melissa Mark-Viverito, who won the primary after a recount, said she had been approached by "a couple" of the candidates for speaker.
"People's intentions are being delineated and at some point I'm going to have to sort through that and start really delving into that," she said.
Mr. Dadey, who said he would like the process to be more transparent, is planning a panel discussion for the speaker candidates to be held at Baruch College next month.