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Liberal ally of NY Mayor de Blasio is new city council speaker

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A liberal ally of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was unanimously chosen to be the next city council speaker on Wednesday, creating the most liberal New York city government in decades.

De Blasio, who took office on January 1 promising to confront economic inequality, had openly thrown his support behind Melissa Mark-Viverito, the co-chair of the council's formidable progressive caucus.

The pair represents a stark shift from their more moderate predecessors - Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn - who were faulted by progressives as too close to the city's real estate industry and for not doing enough for the city's poor.

"We unite for a more equal and just New York," Mark-Viverito told the council after the unanimous vote was cast.

Mark-Viverito, a Puerto Rico native who represents East Harlem and the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, will be the city's first Latina council speaker.

Her main rival, Councilman Daniel Garodnick, who earlier this week won the endorsement of the New York Times, dropped his challenge just minutes before the council vote.

In casting what he called a vote of unity, Garodnick said he hoped the council would provide a "strong counter-balance to the mayor."

A similar theme was voiced by City Councilman Mark Weprin, who also ran for the speaker post.

"We shouldn't be afraid of dissent. We shouldn't be afraid of debate," Weprin said.

Mark-Viverito was an early supporter of de Blasio, a former city councilman, when he was still seen as a long-shot for City Hall. Former speaker Quinn also ran for mayor but was badly defeated in the Democratic primary.

De Blasio, the city's first Democratic mayor in two decades, and Mark-Viverito have vowed to fight for more affordable housing and a stronger paid sick leave law. Both have taken a strong stance against allowing horse-drawn carriages in Central Park, and de Blasio has said abolishing the industry will be among his first acts in office.

Mark-Viverito's victory was a huge boost for the 20-member progressive caucus, which vowed last year to vote as a block in choosing the next speaker for the council, which has 51 members.

(Reporting By Edith Honan; Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson)

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