New York City should contribute more to mass transit while holding the Metropolitan Transportation Authority more accountable, most candidates for City Council speaker said in a debate.

"We should provide more funding but not a blank check," council member Ritchie Torres from the Bronx said in Friday night's discussion hosted by television station NY1.

Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will leave the council Jan. 1 because of term limits. Electing a speaker will be the first important order of business for the new council.

Whomever is elected council speaker will work closely with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Bloomberg News

The speaker plays a key role in negotiating the city's budget with the mayor's office.

The other hopefuls are Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez and Corey Johnson from Manhattan; James Van Bramer and Donovan Richards, from Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams from Brooklyn.

Mayor Bill de Blasio. whose administration has contributed a record $2.5 billion to the state-run MTA's five-year capital plan, has resisted more funding toward MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota's $836 million first phase of subway improvement plan, crafted as initital triage following a rash of breakdowns and fires.

"I would demand the MTA be reorganized," said Rodriguez, who chairs the council's transportation committee.

None of the speaker candidates opposed congestion pricing while many favored de Blasio's proposed millionaire's tax to fund transit.

Levine, whose district covers parts of northern Manhattan, is considered the front-runner. He is perceived as a de Blasio favorite and has the support of Public Advocate Letitia James.

"We have a public hospital system which is on the edge of a fiscal cliff," said Levine. "We have chronically underfunded mass transit. We have a public housing system which is in fiscal and physical distress."

While many council members campaigned on a theme of independence from the mayor's office, all eight admitted they met with de Blasio or plan to meet with him about the speaker position. All are left-of-center ideologically, as is de Blasio.

De Blaso hand-picked Mark-Viverito. Critics say early passage of recent budgets, including the $86 billion plan for fiscal 2018, provided little room for meaningful debate.

The eight discussed land use, term limits and the clout of labor groups, notably the United Federation of Teachers.

"I don't know if they have an oversized role," said Cornegy. "They're responsible for 1.4 million schoolchildren."

While none of the council members said outright that New York City Housing Authority Chairwoman Shola Olatoye should resign amid the spiraling lead-paint scandal -- James last month called for her ouster -- some recommended a deeper investigation.

A city Department of Investigation November report found that in 2016, Olatoye falsely certified that NYCHA had complied with rules requiring annual lead paint inspections of apartments.

The council's oversight committee has scheduled a related hearing for Tuesday.

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Paul Burton

Paul Burton

Paul Burton is the Northeast Regional Editor for The Bond Buyer and the author of the book "Tales from the Newsrooms." He is a sought-after public speaker and has appeared on radio and TV shows, including former CBS News White House correspondent Sharyl Attkisson’s public-affairs program, “Full Measure.”