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The Reformer

The Email Newsletter of Citizens Union
and Citizens Union Foundation
December 2012
Engaging New Yorkers to Reform Government Vol. 7, Issue 5


About Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation

Citizens Union is a nonpartisan good government group dedicated to making democracy work for all New Yorkers. Citizens Union serves as a civic watchdog, combating corruption and fighting for political reform. We work to ensure fair and open elections, honest and efficient government, and a civically-engaged public. Principled and pragmatic, Citizens Union is an independent force for constructive reform, driving policy and educating the public to achieve accountable government in the City and State of New York.

Believing an informed citizenry is the cornerstone of good government, Citizens Union Foundation publishes, an award-winning news and policy website, as a significant component of our public education program.


2012 is ending with tragedy, both locally and nationally.  Here at home, New York City is slowly recovering from Superstorm Sandy with still too many of our fellow New Yorkers displaced or facing economic hardship. Nationally, but right next door, is the painful horror of the killing of 20 school children and 6 educators.   Both tragedies test our government, our government’s policies, and how well we function as a democracy.  It is in times of crisis when we come to see the value of government and the important role it plays in society.  We also have seen first hand the repercussions of government decision making and the consequences of those decisions, both good and bad.

Prompted by recent events, we are reminded that good government is not some abstract quality, but a very real activity that affects how well the public interest is served by government.  You will read below Citizens Union’s recent activity and our work in keeping government accountable and what we do to see that the public interest is served, a job that we can’t do without you and do with you.  Thank you.

You also have my best wishes for a enjoyable holiday season and a healthy and happy start to the new year.



Campaign Finance Reform

Citizens Union is actively engaged in a campaign to bring about campaign finance reform in New York State, the Fair Elections Campaign. CU released a report to bolster the case for public financing,  Fair Elections for New York State, which compares city council races with state legislative races in New York City, finding that there are fewer uncontested races and greater choice of candidates for council seats due to the City’s public matching system.  For example, from 2005 -2012, 21 percent of state legislative seats in New York City were completely uncontested in both the primary and general elections, while city council seats were more highly contested, with only 9 percent of seats uncontested.  Additionally, voters in NYC have far more choice of candidates for council with 4 candidates running in primaries on average, versus only 2 in state legislative races.

Given the public’s growing distaste for unlimited political spending during this year’s national and state elections, Citizens Union is working to press the state to address this issue, a strong case for which was put forward in an editorial from the New York Times.

Making Third-Party Actors’ Campaigns More Transparent

Citizens Union filed a complaint with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman calling on his office to investigate Common Sense Principles, a 501(c)4 organization based in Virginia that  mailed pieces attacking Democratic State Senate candidates in recent years under the guise of lobbying for less government and smaller taxes.  Common Sense Principles failed to register with the Charities Bureau in the Attorney General’s Office, which is required by law.  Such disclosure would reveal more about this organization about which little is known such as the organization’s fundraising contracts and the Board of Directors and by-laws.  Campaign activity across the country by innocuously named 501(c)4s whose donors are unknown reached unprecedented levels during the 2012 campaign season.

Ensuring Fair Elections

Citizens Union called on the Board of Elections in the City of New York to formally investigate Assemblymember Carmen Arroyo for alleged improprieties during the September state legislative primary in the South Bronx.  Affidavits submitted in the State Supreme Court and Appellate Division charged that the Assemblymember was electioneering inside and just outside the poll site, and that poll workers failed to stop her from doing so because she had chosen them to work at the poll site.  Photographic evidence and eyewitness accounts were provided to the court.  Citizens Union found this evidence and accounts compelling enough to call for an investigation by the Board of Elections which they are authorized to do under State Election Law.

JCOPE Disclosure Rules

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) voted in November to approve rules that will disclose donors to lobbying entities, such as 501c4 organizations.  The approved disclosure will require that donors be made public when contributing $5,000 or more to organizations that spend $50,000 and 3 percent of their expenditures on lobbying in accordance with the law enacted in 2011.  The dollar value disclosed for each donor will be proportionate to what the organization spends on lobbying in New York.  Citizens Union made recommendations to JCOPE regarding rules for the disclosure of donors in August.  The Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011 requires disclosure of these relationships to shed light on who is funding organizations that seek to influence decision-making by state government.  Citizens Union’s recommendations were made to maximize transparency of donors to lobbyists while ensuring the rule was applied prospectively so donors are aware that their contributions may be disclosed before they make them.




The process of redrawing the City Council’s 51 district lines is underway, and Citizens Union is actively monitoring and commenting on both the maps and the process by which they are being considered and adopted.  After an initial set of public hearings over the summer, at which Citizens Union testified about the need for a transparent process, the City Districting Commission released draft lines in September.  Citizens Union provided testimony on the draft maps at the hearings in October, noting the need for districts to better reflect the changing demographics of the city.

Following the receipt of public comments, the Commission voted on a revised set of maps, submitting them to the City Council for review.  It was later reported that the maps contained a change requested by Councilmember Erik Dilan to include disgraced Assemblymember Vito Lopez’s residence into district 34, which will be an open seat in 2013.  Given this controversy and concerns that the public did not have the opportunity to weigh in on these changes, Citizens Union issued a statement calling on the Commission to rescind its maps.  Though Citizens Union would have preferred for the Council to formally reject the maps via a public vote, which also would have triggered more hearings, it supported the Commission’s withdrawal of the maps, as it will allow for more public consideration and possible changes to the districts that will improve upon the draft lines initially submitted.

Reports and Advisory Board Review Commission

The Reports and Advisory Board Review Commission was formed earlier this year, and has been examining the city’s current reporting requirements and city advisory boards in order to ensure greater government efficiency. CU has been monitoring the operations and decisions on the Commission, having called on it to operate in a transparent manner, and testified at a public hearing held by the Commission in May regarding specific reports that should be retained.  The Commission ultimately chose to retain 6 of the 7 reports recommended by Citizens Union for continuation, and as reported by Gotham Gazette, an agreement was reached by the City Council and Mayor’s office as a result of Citizens Union’s advocacy, ensuring that the information provided in one additional report – the Stormwater Management Plan Report – would be continued through other mechanisms.

General Election Administration

Citizens Union testified before the City Council and before the State Legislature on the performance of the Board of Elections in administering the election on November 6th.  Citizens Union acknowledged the unprecedented challenges created by Hurricane Sandy that complicated the Board’s administration but also pointed to the many perennial problems including long lines, poll worker shortcomings, and jammed ballot scanners.  Citizens Union recommended a number of solutions to these issues, including a package of election reform bills we have helped introduce and move forward in the City Council that would allow the Board to tap into the municipal work force to recruit poll workers, apply performance-based budgeting to the Board, and enhance email communications between the Board and New Yorkers to alert them to poll site changes and remind them of election-related deadlines.    In our testimony to the state, we aligned the proposed solutions to bills that already exist in Albany .

City’s Campaign Finance Program Saved?

Over the past few weeks, the city’s heralded campaign finance program was in danger of being weakened by a city council bill that would allow institutions and organizations, including corporations and unions, to coordinate directly with candidates in their communications with their members and shareholders.

Citizens Union publicly expressed our concern and then worked with the Campaign Finance Board and the City Council to walk back a standoff that would have resulted in undermining the city’s heralded public campaign finance program, which is being touted as a model for the  state to embrace.  The final outcome is still being worked out, and we are hoping for a positive one, but had this moved forward, the voices and power of individual New Yorkers in our campaigns and elections would have been diminished.




In this year’s General Election, ten out of ten candidates endorsed  by Citizens Union through its Local Candidate Committee candidate evaluation process won their elections.  Our endorsements for State Senate went to Eric Adams, Joseph Addabbo, Tony Avella, Marty Golden and Diane Savino. Citizens Union endorsed Joe Borelli, Jeffrey Dinowitz, Ron Kim, Nicole Malliotakis and Nily D. Rozic for State Assembly. Three of the candidates Citizens Union endorsed were Republicans and seven were Democrats.

In the Primary Election held in September, Citizens Union preferred the winner in 8 of the 16 primary contests in which we made our support known: Mark Gjonaj, Brian P. Kavanagh, Ron Kim, and Nily D. Rozic won their state assembly primary races, while Adriano Espaillat, Brad M. Hoylman, James Sanders, Jr., and Eric A. Ulrich, won their primary races for state senate. In total, Citizens Union evaluated 20 contests for the primary election, and 14 contests for the general election across all five boroughs of the city in races ranging from Surrogate Judge, to a special election for a City Council seat.

“Citizens Union endorses candidates because they support or have advanced reform legislation, and are effective representatives of their communities,” said Dick Dadey. “Our endorsements of Republicans and Democrats demonstrate our intent to work with all elected officials, regardless of party affiliation, on critical issues of reform that affect all New Yorkers.”



From City Council redistricting to the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Gotham Gazette continued its award-winning coverage of the policy issues that matter to you. Here are some highlights of our coverage:

After Hurricane, Some Begin to Question Wisdom of Rockaway Pipeline Project

Now that the construction of a new chain of natural gas pipelines running from the Rockaway peninsula to Brooklyn has been delayed following Superstorm Sandy, residents and elected officials are beginning to question whether the project is safe to build at all. By Cristian Salazar & David Howard King.

Chicken Little, a Ferris Wheel, and Disorderly Development on Staten Island’s North Shore
Long before Superstorm Sandy hit, local activists on Staten Island’s North Shore were practically begging city officials, through emails, testimonies and public meetings, to better consider the effects of rising sea levels and climate change on the area. By Melissa Checker.

Advocates Send Thanksgiving Message in Calling for Hike in Minimum Wage
Minimum wage was supposed to be on the agenda for a special session of the state Legislature this winter and it was a popular talking point across the state during this month’s elections. But many lawmakers are now focused on recovery from Hurricane Sandy and prospects for a special session are  growing slimmer by the hour. By David Howard King & Kamelia Kilawan



Omar Toro-Vaca

Born in Mexico and raised in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Texas, Omar Toro-Vaca knew that New York City was the place for him when he first arrived in 1998 to visit universities with undergraduate programs in architecture.

“I knew I would be here a long time,” says Omar who was attracted to the city’s mixing bowl of cultures and activities. “New York is a true representation of a democratic city in terms of diversity — everybody’s an individual, yet part of a community.”

Omar trained as an architect at the Pratt Institute and received a Masters in Public Administration concentrating in urban policy from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.  He is currently a Research Associate for architect, planner and developer Vishaan Chakrabarti who directs Columbia University’s Center for Urban Real Estate. Omar is helping Chakrabarti research a book examining how the policies of the federal government throughout the 20th century have promoted suburban sprawl at the expense of cities. Omar’s involvement with Citizens Union directly informs his professional life because he feels that the overlap between design and policy is critical for making a better city.

“The greatest impact an architect can have,” says Omar, “is by addressing the policies that allow a city to grow, to become more affordable and to diversify.”

Omar, who serves on the Economic Development Committee for Brooklyn’s Community Board 2, thinks civic engagement is a critical part of urban living and so Citizens Union was a natural fit for him. He joined the Local Candidates Committee this summer to explore the issues facing candidates as he contemplates his own possible run for local office.

“Citizens Union is important because of the need to continue perfecting our democracy” says Omar. “The significance of elections has declined over time and the number of people who vote and get involved in other ways is diminishing. One way to improve upon that is to elevate the level of discussion.”



Annual Awards Dinner a Great Success!

Just days before Superstorm Sandy reached New York, Citizens Union welcomed over 300 guests to The Pierre to honor the distinctive leadership accomplishments of awardees Adrian BenepeDr. Antonio M. Gotto, Jr., Betsy & Kenneth Plevan, and Jason Stewart.

CU celebrated these civic-minded New Yorkers whose collective work has strengthened the sectors of community health, law, technology, parks and urban environment, business, and education.  Presenters and honorees alike heralded the importance of accountable, effective local government for all New Yorkers.  Not only that, they helped Citizens Union raise $1 million for its work!  Heartfelt thanks to all who contributed and participated.

Annual Meeting & Civic Conversation

Citizens Union on September 24 held our Annual Members Meeting and Civic Conversation at the CUNY Graduate Center on September 24. Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation chair Peter Sherwin and executive director Dick Dadey discussed Citizens Union’s accomplishments for 2012, including the first passage of a constitutional amendment to end partisan gerrymandering, the creation of a historic state legislative ethics bill, as well as advocating successfully for the City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board to be given powers to prosecute police officers accused of misconduct.   Learn more about what Citizens Union achieved and our finances by reading our 2012 Annual Report.

After the meeting, a Civic Conversation entitled City Hall at a Crossroads: Your Issues, Our City, New York’s Future, was held with Richard Ravitch, former New York Lt. Governor, Kathy Wylde, President of Partnership for NYC, David Jones, President of Community Service Society, and Pedro Noguera, professor of education at NYU. It was moderated by New York Times City Hall Bureau Chief David W. Chen. The panelists discussed issues that the next mayor would have to tackle, including reforming the education system, and confronting the impending budget crisis. This Civic Conversation kicks off a series of Civic Conversations that Citizens Union will organize throughout 2013 in preparation for a transition period after Mayor Michael Bloomberg leaves office, highlighting the major challenges facing New Yorkers that must be addressed by incoming elected officials. You can view a video of the full Civic Conversation from our annual meeting here.

PRICELESS – Film Screening & Panel Discussion

In November, Citizens Union partnered with Americans for Campaign Reform, Americans for Sustainable Business, the Brennan Center, and the Committee for Economic Development to hold a film screening of a documentary on campaign finance reform, ‘Priceless.’ The screening was followed by a panel discussion with Mark McKinnon, a founder of No Labels, Trevor Potter, former FEC chair and former general counsel to John McCain’s presidential campaigns, and Rich Davis, member of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and former CU chair. The panel, which was held at the CUNY Graduate Center, was moderated by Jeanne Cummings, the national political director for Bloomberg News.



In 2012, support from our members and donors led to two enormous victories:  Greater public oversight of police misconduct and first passage of a state redistricting reform constitutional amendment. As the year draws to a close and CU gears up for a big push on campaign finance reform in New York State, renew your membership, make an additional gift for our legislative work  or support our research and education with a tax-deductible gift to Citizens Union Foundation.  With every dollar you donate, CU will be better equipped to make NYC and NYS government work for you!



To read recent coverage of our work visit the In the News section of our website. Recently, Citizens Union’s work was covered by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily News, NY1, NBC News, and the Times Union, among others.


Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation

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Peter J.W. Sherwin, Chair – Robert Abrams, President – Dick Dadey, Executive Director

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