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Races Heat Up For New York City Council Speaker, Brooklyn DA

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The race for New York City mayor looks more and more like a runaway with Democrat Bill de Blasio ahead of his GOP opponent by 44 points in a recent poll.

Although the next resident of Gracie Mansion appears to be a foregone conclusion -- even some of Republican Joe Lhota's supporters have thrown up their hands and admitted that de Blasio has him licked -- two of the city's other highly coveted offices are up for grabs. There's also a controversial proposal on the ballot to determine the future of gambling across the state.

Several politicians are jostling to be the next New York City Council speaker, often described as the second-most powerful position in New York. In Brooklyn, the most populous borough, there's a bitter contest for district attorney.

CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER

Current Office Holder: Christine Quinn, a Manhattan Democrat. Quinn must vacate her seat because of term limits.

Who's Running: A long list of council members have either openly declared they want the job or reportedly signaled an interest in taking the reins over the 51-member council.

In fact, it's almost quicker to say who isn't running. Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan), Inez Dickens, (D-Manhattan), Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan), Annabel Palma (D-Bronx), James Vacca (D-Bronx), Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens), Mark Weprin (D-Queens) and Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) are some of the lawmakers who reportedly have a shot at winning.

Why They Want It: The speakership is coveted because "you're easily the second most powerful person in the most important city," said Evan Stavisky, a political consultant with the Parkside Group. (Stavisky currently has no clients on the council.)

The speaker controls which legislation gets voted on, hands out committee assignments, and can either work closely with the mayor or obstruct the mayor's agenda.

Who Will Win: Like other insiders, Stavisky told HuffPost that it's too early to predict a winner, especially with 21 first-term members entering the council Jan. 1. However, he listed the credentials a member would need to come out on top.

"It takes a good relationship with your colleagues and requires having few -- if any -- enemies. It takes a great understanding of how the institution works and what your colleagues care about. It requires a few supporters amongst the council members who will be with you through thick and thin," he said.

Fun Fact: There are only four Republicans in the council, so the next speaker likely will be a Democrat. If de Blasio becomes mayor, it will mark the first time since 1992 (when David Dinkins was mayor and Peter Vallone Sr. was speaker) that the two offices were held by politicians from the same party.

BROOKLYN DISTRICT ATTORNEY

Current Officeholder: Charles "Joe" Hynes, who was first elected Kings County district attorney in 1989

Who's Running: Hynes, the six-term veteran prosecutor, is trying to stave off Ken Thompson, a former assistant U.S. attorney. Thompson pulled an upset victory in the Democratic primary, beating Hynes by 10 percentage points. Rather than leave office quietly, Hynes announced last weekend that he would run in the general election on the Republican and Conservative party lines.

Early in his career as DA, Hynes was considered an innovator because of his initiatives, like a program that offered addicts substance-abuse treatment rather than prison time. But Thompson capitalized on recent press coverage that was critical of Hynes. There have been articles claiming the district attorney didn't thoroughly investigate allegations of sexual abuse in the borough's ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, as well as reports of wrongful convictions.

Why Hynes Re-entered The Race: "The people of Brooklyn want him," Hynes' campaign spokesman said last week.

Hynes followed that up by attacking Thompson's integrity, arguing that former Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Clarence Norman Jr. worked on Thompson's campaign. Norman had been convicted of accepting illegal campaign contributions and abusing his power in several cases brought by Hynes over the past decade.

Thompson denied that Norman works for the campaign and accused Hynes of lying. Prominent Democrats, like Sen. Charles Schumer, have endorsed Thompson.

Who's Going To Win: Although Hynes has an edge in name recognition, experts say, it'll be an uphill battle to convince voters in heavily Democratic Brooklyn to pull the GOP lever for him.

"Most voters in Brooklyn are going to go straight down the party line," said Ken Fisher, a former councilman representing Brooklyn Heights. "Hynes has created some of the most innovative programs in the country, but that may have left him with a blind side. Thompson won for a couple of interrelated reasons. One was that Joe's best years had receded from people's memories."

CASINO REFERENDUM

What's On The Line: Proposal 1 is a referendum on ballots across the state that would amend New York's constitution to allow for seven Vegas-style casinos to be built upstate on non-Indian reservation land.

Why It's Controversial: Critics contend that the referendum is one-sided and paints an overly rosy picture of legalized gambling. It says:

"The proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution would allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated. Shall the amendment be approved?"

A Brooklyn lawyer filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court in Albany on Oct. 1 to get the measure rewritten or taken off the ballot, and has since been joined by good-government advocacy groups.

Who's For It: Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota, and a variety of business leaders and labor unions

Who Opposes It: Religious organizations, like the New York State Catholic Conference, New York Indian tribes with casinos on their reservations, good-government groups who said the referendum is biased