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New City Council Speaker Corey Johnson Says He'll Be Independent, Challenge Mayor

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Corey Johnson, the new speaker of the New York City Council, vows to be independent and mount his own investigations of city agencies.

And if Johnson does not agree with mayoral policies, he says he will challenge them.

CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer said Tuesday that there is a new wind blowing at City Hall.

Kramer's Full Interview With Speaker Johnson

Mayor Bill de Blasio was sworn in for a second term on a cold, blustery day that might have been a harbinger for things to come. Kramer reported it might have been a warning that the new speaker of the City Council might not look on all his ideas as warmly as the last one.

Johnson: "We will and must be a well-respected separate, coequal branch of government."
Kramer: "So you will not be a rubber stamp?"

Johnson: "No, I will not be a rubber stamp, and the mayor knows that."

And if Mayor de Blasio had any doubt, he got the message loud and clear right after Johnson beat out seven others for the top spot. One of the first things he did was set up his own investigations unit to probe city agencies.

"We're going to look at some of these endemic issues that have plagued the city for a very long time," Johnson said. "There's placard abuse throughout the city. You have NYCHA, which has serious problems; the homelessness issue."

Already, Johnson is asking questions – does the city need the 90 homeless shelters proposed by the mayor? The speaker says probably not.

"That is a Band-Aid in many ways," he said. "The real issue here is we need supportive housing. We need housing with social services."

Johnson, who also met with Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota Tuesday to discuss MTA funding, also splits with the mayor on congestion pricing. The speaker wants a surcharge on taxis and car services, fees to encourage overnight truck deliveries, and some way to curb tour buses.

But as for the suggestion that drivers pay $11.52 to enter the central business district?

Johnson: "I think $11.52 is probably too high."

Kramer: "What about a congestion fee that equals the cost of a subway or bus ride?"

Johnson: "That's probably a little too low, because the whole point of the congestion fee is you need to disincentivize people from driving into Manhattan."

Johnson proudly boasts of beating addictions to drugs and alcohol. One of the first things you see as you enter his office is a row of coins denoting his years of sobriety.

He also loves live and makes no bones about it.

"I like to lip sync, I like to dance, I like to eat, I like to go to the movies," Johnson said. "I think you can do this job and still have fun. I can lip sync Lady Gaga and pass legislation the same day."

Growing up with no money and living in public housing as a kid, Johnson has few pretensions. He shares a 319 square-foot studio apartment with a roommate and his cat, Mousse.

He said he all he wants to do is get it right.

Johnson is 35 years old and has many years ahead of him to seek other elected office at the end of his four-year term.

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