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The Reformer

IN THIS ISSUE

About Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation

Citizens Union of the City of New York is an independent, non-partisan force dedicated to promoting good government and political reform in the city and state of New York. For more than a century, Citizens Union has served as a watchdog for the public interest and an advocate for the common good. We work to ensure fair elections, clean campaigns, and open, effective government that is accountable to the citizens of New York. We do so by informing the policy debate and influencing the policy outcomes that affect the lives of all New Yorkers. Believing that an informed citizenry is the cornerstone of a thriving local democracy, Citizens Union Foundation – the non profit research, education, and advocacy organization affiliated with CU – publishes Gotham Gazette, a front row seat to New York City policies and politics.

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from Dick Dadey, Executive Director

As 2007 winds down, we look back and see a landscape not as full of enacted state reform measures as we all had hoped to see. Left hanging on the vine of withering agreements in Albany is the campaign finance reform measure that was announced to great fanfare back in July. Governor Spitzer began with a great deal of promise to reform government and much remains to be done. Some of this is because of self-inflicted misguided actions and some is because of the still present and deeply entrenched paralysis that has defined our state government for a number of years.

We hope, however, that the Governor will make the necessary amends and regain his footing early in the new year, and that the legislature will feel the need to act on reform items like campaign finance and redistricting before asking voters to support their re-elections in 2008. Governor Spitzer’s missteps should not be the reason why the legislature continues to avoid making additional progress on reforming our state government and changing the way in which campaigns and elections are conducted. They are too important to how government impacts the lives of its citizens to be ignored

Our heralded online publication, Gotham Gazette launched late last month the first of six planned public policy games made possible with the support of the Knight Foundation. Our first game, The Garbage Game, caught the attention and interest of the city sanitation department so much that it is posted on their home page! If you haven’t yet had the chance to play it, please do, since the issue of managing and disposing of the city’s waste remains an unresolved issue fraught with many different policy options. Like me, you may even learn something about garbage.

On behalf of everyone at Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation, I wish you and yours a very enjoyable end to the year, and a happy and peaceful start to the new one.

City Updates

City Council Hearing on Elected Officials Compensation

The City Council last fall increased its own member’s salaries based on recommendations of the 2006 Advisory Commission for the Review of Compensation Levels of Elected Officials, bringing their compensation to $112,500 before any stipends or “lulus” are added, (90% of members receive stipends in addition to their salaries). Citizens Union continues to advocate for further reform on the issue of elected official compensation, and testified at the December 5th Committee on Governmental Operations hearing following up on the recommendations of the advisory commission. The testimony called for the elimination of stipends or “lulu” for all but top leadership positions in the Council, further examination of part-time vs. full-time designation for Council members, and ending the practice of a sitting City Council increasing its own salary. Most noteworthy is the CU suggestion that if council members continue to be allowed to earn outside income, they then should be required to file a different and more detailed financial disclosure form. Other testimony was given by Neal Rosenstein of New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), and Bob Zuckerman (a City Council candidate), while Henry Stern of New York Civic arrived too late to present his testimon, a decision made by Committee Chair Simcha Felder.

City Council attendees included council members Peter Vallone, Jr.; Joseph Addabbo; Larry Seabrook; Inez Dickens; Erik Martin Dilan; Domenic Recchia; and a written statement was read aloud by Chair Felder from Tony Avella expressing his belief that Council members should be full-time and subject to restrictions on outside earned income. There was significant discussion of the various issues related to City Council compensation. Members agreed that the position requires full-time hours, if not more. Council Member Dickens shared her personal experience of working weekends and evenings. However, no conclusive position was reached about limits on outside-earned income. Some stated that stipends have become equalized under Speaker Quinn and are deserved by committee chairs, but agreed to further examine their usage. Felder assured participants that the committee would propose legislation on these issues in the next year. Please see Citizens Union in the News for media coverage of the hearing.

 

 

City Council Hearing on Campaign Finance Reform Changes and Electronic Submission of Rules

Citizens Union presented testimony supporting two pieces of legislation on the agenda for a hearing on December 6th held by the Committee on Governmental Operations. The first bill, Intro 651-A, would make technical changes to the campaign finance reform law enacted earlier this year, further clarifying and tightening the law. The second bill, Intro 643, would require full texts of emergency rules and proposed rules changes by city agencies to be submitted electronically to the City Council, chairs of Community Boards, the news media, and civic organizations no later than the rule is sent to the City Record for publication. Click here to read the campaign finance testimony and here for the rules change testimony.

 

Poll Worker Updates

Make 2008 Count!

Citizens Union Foundation kicked off another of its poll worker recruitment drives in November. This particular recruitment drive aims to collect applicants to work at the polls during the upcoming February 5th presidential primary here in New York State. CUF so far has recruited over 1,300 applicants to be poll clerks, information clerks, door clerks and language interpreters so far. The drive will run until December 19, 2007 for the February primaries.

If you or someone you know is interested in being a poll worker in 2008, please visit our website. If you have any questions or would like to apply over the phone please contact 212.227.0342 x46 or email: [email protected]. Citizens Union Foundation is proud to offer New Yorkers the only online site for submitting applications to serve at the polls. Please help us recruit a nonpartisan pool of election day workers.

 

State Updates

New York State Budget Reform

Next year’s state budget process begins in January with Governor Spitzer’s release of the Executive Budget, and promises to be contentious, with an expected 2008-09 budget gap of over $4 billion. The annual budget and its adoption are often rushed, complicated and opaque, and have eluded meaningful public debate. Although certain reforms were passed in 2007, including itemization of member items, authorization of a new rainy-day fund, and quick-start negotiations on revenue projections that began for the first time in November, Citizens Union believes that the budget process is far from perfect and that the citizens of New York deserve better.

Citizens Union will soon release a comprehensive position statement on budget reform that will call for greater transparency, integrity, and efficiency. Some of the reforms being considered include: the creation of a New York State independent budget office, discouraging the use of “messages of necessity,” requiring consistent and clearer formatting of budget documents through the successive stages of the process, and requiring greater disclosure of off-budget items and the fiscal responsibilities of all New York State public authorities.

 

Project Sunlight Launches

The Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, has unveiled Project Sunlight — an interactive website that consolidates information on campaign contributions, lobbyists and their clients, and legislation in a searchable manner for the public. In doing so, the Attorney General has made good on a major campaign promise to bring more transparency to New York State government.

The website was developed by Blair Horner, the former Legislative Director of NYPIRG and long time good government advocate, who was selected by Cuomo to head this project. It pulls together, in one easy to use website, valuable information that New Yorkers can use to monitor their officials and hold them accountable. We commend and applaud their efforts and expect Project Sunlight to lead to more open and responsive government.

 

HAVA Update

The New York State Board of Elections faces the possibility of losing authority to select new voting machines slated to replace the state’s antiquated lever voting machines. The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) is expected to present their motion to force New York State to implement HAVA compliant voting machines in time for the upcoming presidential election in November of 2008.

The DOJ proposal would have federal courts take control of the voting machine selection process from New York State, and implement new voting machines for the 2008 Presidential Election in November. Citizens Union, among other advocates, argue implementation by 2008 is impractical at this moment and would force the state to abandon its important high standards and be forced to purchase voting machines that don’t meet these standards, thereby undermining any gains won when the state established some of the strictest standards for new voting machines in the country.

The 2002 Help America Vote Act mandated that states modernize their voting machine standards. New York State failed to adopt its standards and provide for new machines by a prior federal deadline, but its delay has had the beneficial consequence of having New York State learn from the experience of other states that implemented flawed systems and faulty machines and formulated new needed higher standards for compliance with HAVA. There are currently no voting machines available in the national marketplace that meet New York State’s standards for transparency and security.

 

Civics Education Initiative

CUF Partners with Urban Assembly’s Academy for Civic Engagement

Our Civics Education Program, the brainchild of CUF board member Amie James, seeks to support civics education and to inspire a generation of young students to participate in civic affairs. In the June Reformer, we reported on our mini-grants to teachers who are using Gotham Gazette as a resource. In addition to supporting teachers across the city, we have begun a partnership with the Urban Assembly Academy for Civic Engagement (ACE), a new school that opened its doors to 6th graders this September. Located in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx, this school aims to teach its students about political and social matters in the past and present. Students learn that involvement in the political process is central to making their communities and the world a better place.

Already, Gail Robinson, editor-in-chef of Gotham Gazette has given a class on the important role that journalists play by reporting on the deliberations and actions of government. In addition, executive director Dick Dadey held a round table discussion that took place at the CU offices with a dozen ACE students examining the function of city government and ways citizens influence policy using the issue of cell phones in the school. When heading home from the roundtable, one of the students described the experience to UA program coordinator, Angie Jack, as leaving her as “happy as getting scratched behind the ear. ”

 

Who is Citizens Union?

John Horan, CU Board and Executive Committee Member, Chair of the Local Candidates Committee

John R. Horan is a partner in Fox, Horan and Camerini, a boutique international law firm. He has been a civil litigator in New York since 1963, first as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and thereafter in private practice. His practice ranges among such diverse subjects as international commercial contracts, business fraud, trust accountings, contested wills, civil forfeiture, insider trading, U.S. customs duties and private anti-trust. He has also conducted major arbitrations in both international and domestic cases. He has served on the National Panel of Arbitrators of the American Arbitration Association.

In addition, Mr. Horan served for twenty seven years (1978-2005) in a public capacity as Vice Chair of New York City’s Board of Correction. He has been active in City and State bar associations since 1968 and chaired several committees concerning judicial reforms. He was appointed by the Presiding Justice to serve on the First Department Discipline Committee, hearing and reporting to the court on cases of lawyer misconduct. From 1979 to 1991 he taught Professional Responsibility at Columbia Law School as a Lecturer in Law. He appears regularly as a CLE lecturer at the New York County Lawyers Association.

John Horan joined Citizens Union in 1967 and has served on the board since 1993. He served as a member and later as Vice Chair of the Local Candidates Committee from 1970 to 2001. As chair of the Local Candidates Committee since 2002, he has led our important candidate evaluation work for the last six years and oversaw CU’s first ever evaluation of candidates for statewide office in 2006.

“My father was a member of the CU board in the late forties and I was raised on Searchlight with Milton Bergerman on Sunday morning; this was one of the very few television programs I was allowed to watch. When I left the US Attorneys office I immediately became active in Citizens Union, first on the Legislative Committee run by George Hallet, and then gravitating to the Local Candidates Committee under David Charles Klein who became my mentor for my continuing involvement with CU. He and I in the days when we had limited staff assistance ran the Committee doing our own leg work, setting up all the interview groups and supervising and in many instances writing the candidate write-ups ourselves and feeding them into the harried executive director. When Linda Davidoff became executive director and found Doug Israel and developed a staff of student interns the Committee became better organized, more efficient and better informed. Of course the internet has made information more accessible and improved our performance. Still there is a lot of judgment in making our assessments and we rely on the quality of the Committee members, who on the whole, are very diligent and conscientious in maintaining a non-partisan position in each race.”

Gotham Gazette NEWS AND Highlights

You can still play the Garbage Game and solve New York’s solid waste crunch. Don’t miss this chance to be the virtual Commissioner of Sanitation!

Two views — here and here — of the new grading system for New York City schools.

Also, a look at three key parts of New York City’s holiday economy: shopping, food and entertainment.

As the year draws to an end, Gotham Gazette will look back on the top city stories of 2007, check in on what did not happen in 2007 and offer prominent New Yorkers’ predictions for 2008. Please take a few moments to show your support Gotham Gazette by making a contribution.

 

Join Citizens Union as a Member

Please take a moment to renew your membership or make a special year-end gift to support the work of Citizens Union. With your support, we will be better able to seize the important opportunities ahead in 2008. We will seek more effective government, further limit the role of special interests, and advance the public good in Albany and at City Hall.

When you stand with us for good government, Citizens Union is stronger and grows more influential than ever. Our recent successes demonstrate the importance of New Yorkers coming together in a nonpartisan call for ethics, integrity, and accountability in government. Help make reform a reality!

Some Citizens Union members have asked to receive our press releases and positions statement as they become public. Therefore, we have set up a members’ press release email list. Click here to subscribe and stay abreast of our work.

 

Citizens Union In the News

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