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For more than 120 years, Citizens Union has been a non-partisan force for transparency, accountability, honesty, and ethics in New York City and State government. Founded by private citizens who cared about good government and wanted to call out the corrupt political bosses of the Tammany Hall era, Citizens Union has since made expressing preferences for state and local candidates who share its values an essential part of its mission. It’s a kind of nonpartisan “seal of approval” highly coveted by those seeking elected office in New York.

But never before have we expressed a preference in a U.S. Presidential race. That is, until now. This year, for the first time in Citizens Union’s 120 year history, we have decided to issue an endorsement for the presidential election. This decision was not taken lightly. After all, we are weighing in on a federal race when our focus has always been on local and state government. However, the stakes in this year’s presidential race are too high—for New Yorkers and for all Americans—to sit on the sidelines. The issues that Citizens Union cares most about—transparency, accountability, honesty, and ethics in government—are front and center in this election. The stability of our democratic institutions is frail. Federal policy on immigration, racial justice, and the coronavirus pandemic have affected so many in New York City.

Given this consequential moment in the history of the city of New York, and the uncertain future that awaits it, Citizens Union feels compelled to weigh in on this important race. A Board of Directors Screening Committee has evaluated the candidates’ positions and record in light of our reform agenda. This included issues like elections and voting, government checks and balances, police accountability and the 2020 Census, as well as candidates’ ability to propose thoughtful solutions to represent the challenges facing the United States, and the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on New York City. The evaluation included the presidential candidates of the two major parties.


Candidate Evaluation

Joseph R. Biden / Kamala B. Harris ★ Endorsed Candidates

Democratic, Working Families
Age: 77
Occupation: Former Vice President
Education: University of Delaware, B.A., Syracuse University J.D.

Joe Biden served as the 47th vice president of the United States from 2009 to 2017, and before that represented the state of Delaware in the U.S. Senate for 36 years. A native of Scranton, Pennsylvania who spent most of his life in public offices, Biden is running his third bid for the presidency, but first as the Democratic nominee. As Vice President, he served as an adviser and confidant for President Barack Obama, taking on a particularly active role in foreign policy.

Throughout the Obama administration, he was a key figure in negotiations with Congress, achieving bipartisan support for budget deals and legislation, and oversaw the $800 billion stimulus program under the 2009 Recovery Act. Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, is the junior U.S Senator from California.

Biden’s presidential campaign focuses on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fallout. He vows to implement a public health response that ensures the wide availability of free testing, the elimination of all cost barriers to preventive care and treatment, and the development of a vaccine. His economic response would start with emergency paid leave for all those affected by the outbreak. Other major goals for Biden are reclaiming U.S. respected leadership on the world stage and creating a more inclusive democracy. His key message is a moral one: a battle for the soul of America, and for basic values such as dignity, resilience, and hope in the face of the dangers from a possible second term for Donald Trump.

Biden devotes a section of his platform to government reform, which includes comprehensive policies to reduce the influence of money in politics and campaigns, strengthen ethics regulations, reduce conflicts of interest in the Executive Branch, and set higher standards for lobbying activities.

In addition, Biden wants to make it easier for people to be able to vote, and he has acknowledged the importance of mail-in voting and the need to fund election administration properly. He has also been vocal about the need to stop foreign interference in U.S. elections, and promised to respond to it through various methods, including sanctions, cyber responses, and exposure of corruption.

On police accountability, Biden promises to use the Justice Department to root out unlawful policing, and to create a model use of-force standard. He proposes increased funding for community policing and reform and said he would tie federal funding to the adoption of such policies, body-worn cameras, and training.

Lastly, Biden vows to maintain separation of powers. He has stated that the impartiality of the courts is a “precious commodity that the courts cannot afford to have undermined,” and criticized what he calls “the dangerous politicization of the Department of Justice.” He proposes to take aggressive action to prevent the White House from improperly interfering in federal investigations and prosecutions, increase transparency in Department of Justice decision-making, strengthen its Inspector General, and more.

For these reasons, Citizens Union endorses Joe Biden, and believes he will restore dignity to the Oval Office, strive to unify the country, reach across the aisle to try to build consensus, respect democraticinstitutions and the rule of law, and tell the truth. 


Donald J. Trump / Michael R. Pence
Republican, Conservative
Age: 74
Occupation: Current President of the United States
Education: Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, B.S.

Donald Trump is running for a second term as the President of the United States. Before being elected in 2016, he was a real estate tycoon, a reality TV personality, and a businessman involved in hotels, resorts, entertainment, and other industries. Born in Queens, he was a New Yorker for most of his life, often appearing on the city’s tabloid press as a colorful billionaire. His short political career, however, has been marked by divisive rhetoric, a disregard for norms, and an unapologetic claim for unlimited executive power. Trump’s running mate is the current vice president, Mike Pence. 

As President, Trump has focused on restricting immigration, renegotiating trade agreements, and eliminating federal regulations, including much of the Obama-era environmental policies. His signature legislative achievement was a 2017 tax reform, one of the largest overhauls to the tax code in decades. In 2019, he was impeached by the House of Representatives for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Trump did not publish a detailed platform on reform issues, or on any issue, and he is running based on the record of his first term. However, he does promise to pass Congressional term limits and “expose Washington’s money trail” if reelected. 

Trump’s actions and statements on our democratic institutions have been destructive.

He has been outspoken in criticizing the judicial branch and expressing a lack of confidence in courts and judges. As a candidate, he suggested a federal judge could not be impartial when deciding the future of Trump University because of his “Mexican heritage.” He questioned the credibility of the court system because of the repeated defeats his administration saw in courts. Similarly, in the Department of Justice, Trump has removed or pressured officials he deemed too independent or “disloyal”.

Trump has also undermined accountability and ethics in government by pushing out five Inspectors General, including those involved in investigations related to him and his Secretary of State. This unprecedented attack on independent government watchdogs was later followed by an attempt to discredit and “out” the whistleblower who first reported the Ukrainian incident that resulted in Trump’s impeachment.

On top of his attacks on good government, the President has also made a point in lashing out against New York City. His administration’s harsh and often cruel persecution of immigrants has undermined the safety of the biggest city in the country. And in the face of the biggest economic crisis in a century, Trump refused to provide aid to New York and even called to curb current federal funding.

In recent months, Trump has cast doubt on the possibility of conducting an honest and fair election, particularly as mail-in voting expanded under the coronavirus pandemic. He has repeatedly called ballots “a problem” and urged to “get rid of the ballots,” even encouraging his supporters to vote twice. He refused to say he will accept the result of the election or to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.

Citizens Union believes that President Trump has eroded public confidence in our democratic institutions, failed to respect the rule of law, shown an appalling lack of leadership in times of crises, and should not be re-elected.


Howie Hawkins / Angela Nicole Walker
The candidate was not evaluated by Citizens Union.


Jo Jorgensen / Jeremy Cohen
The candidate was not evaluated by Citizens Union.


Brock Pierce / Karla Ballard
The candidate was not evaluated by Citizens Union.

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