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IN THIS ISSUE

 

 

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 www.GothamGazette.com, an award-winning news and policy website, as a significant component of our public education program.

FROM DICK DADEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

It has been awhile since we sent you a Reformer, updating you on the activities of Citizens Union, but I appreciate your continued interest in and support for our work to make democracy work for all New Yorkers.

2013 was a uniquely pivotal year for New York City. After 20 years, 2 mayors, and a terrorist attack on September 11th, New York has been challenged and transformed. Yet its future is full of other remaining challenges as New York will see the largest turnover in city government in a generation. On January 1st, we will swear in new elected officials for all three citywide offices, five borough presidents, two district attorneys, and nearly half the City Council seats. This past election season represented a monumental change in our city’s leadership.

Though some New Yorkers see only what Mayor Bloomberg didn’t do, he was a transformational leader changing the city in many significant and welcomed ways.   We agreed with him more often than not, and most strongly when he and Speaker Chris Quinn changed the term limits law. In many respects, but far from all, New York City is a stronger, safer and better city than when he took office.   Mayor deBlasio enters office with a solid foundation on which to build his vision for a better city that benefits even more New Yorkers, especially those less fortunate.  In spite of the term limits change, Speaker Quinn also deserves praise for the Council’s accomplishments that in fact strengthened the role of the City Council in our city’s governance.

Many reforms championed by Citizens Union over the past decade were embraced and enacted under their tenure in office. In the past month alone, the council passed and the mayor signed into law four pieces of legislation long championed by CU.  Read below about the laws that improved lobbying oversight, required all city public meetings now to be webcast, and mandates the city board of elections post sample ballots online so voters know what to expect before showing up at the polls.

At the state level, the ongoing fallout from this year’s corruption scandals has created several opportunities to highlight areas for improvement and take serious steps to put a stop to the crime wave plaguing Albany.

Read on to learn how Citizens Union has pursued its mission in 2013 and how CU serves as a dedicated government watchdog as the Moreland Commission investigates Albany’s culture of corruption.  Governor Cuomo now needs to seize the damning report put out by his commission and push to enact many of the recommended changes.

But all that is for 2014.  For now, let us pause and enjoy the holiday season.  May you do so with the ones who you hold dear.

STATE UPDATES

ETHICS AND BUDGET REFORM

As an active watchdog on Albany, Citizens Union in September released “ Spending in the Shadows: Discretionary Funding in the NYS Budget ,” a report revealing a staggering number of loosely defined and poorly disclosed discretionary funds in Albany.  Beyond member items, nearly $3 billion in “lump sum” funds exist that allow lawmakers to make spending decisions after the state budget bills are passed.  State funds like these are what former Senator Malcolm Smith is accused of trying to use to curry favor in his attempt to win political support for his bid for mayor.

Citizens Union unveiled this report to the Moreland Commission in our   testimony to them in September  . CU’s testimony focused on the report’s revelation of anomalous appropriations in the State budget that amount to a grab bag of unallocated discretionary funds. CU called for greater transparency and more specific details to be provided about this funding before it is spent.

Ultimately, the Moreland Commission’s Preliminary Report that was released in December included recommendations that legislative discretionary funds be made more transparent to the public.  CU’s   report on legislative turnout   was also cited by the Commission in its report, noting the high levels of incumbent re-election. Responding to the report, Citizens Union released a list of Top Ten Gems of the Moreland Commission Report.  Citizens Union also sent a   letter with our good government partners to Governor Cuomo  , calling for quick and comprehensive action to implement the Moreland Commission’s recommendations that stressed comprehensive campaign finance reform anchored by public funding and strong enforcement.  For more information, see the   news release about the letter , or some of the news coverage and video of the press conference  about the groups’ calls to reform the Board of Elections, among other changes.

CITY UPDATES

LEGISLATIVE ACHIEVEMENTS

Citizens Union saw the passage of two important pieces of legislation by the City Council this fall: a bill to require city agencies to webcast their public meetings, and legislation putting in place many important lobbying reforms.

Webcasting

CU staff earlier this month attended the bill signing with Mayor Michael Bloomberg for Intro 132-A (Brewer), that ensures city government’s public meetings are recorded and webcast, and that archival footage is provided online for the public.  This new law – shining a light on virtually all city government public proceedings – builds on the Bloomberg administration’s and City Council’s important record of increased government transparency and accessibility, such as the passage in 2012 of the city’s landmark Open Data Law.  CU supported the passage of this legislation since its introduction, and provided important research and analysis of this issue to the City Council, having  testified in April this year   in favor of the legislation, as well as in 2008. We also   provided recommendations   to further improve the efforts of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment in facilitating the webcasting of city government proceedings.

 

Lobbying Reforms

CU achieved another important victory with Mayor Bloomberg signing landmark lobbying reform legislation into law, which was sponsored by Speaker Quinn, that allows New Yorkers to better know who seeks to influence important governmental decision-making.

The law largely reflects the recommendations of the  City Lobbying Commission created in 2011.  The convening of the Commission in 2011 was a product of landmark lobbying laws passed in 2006, which Citizens Union helped bring about by releasing a report in 2005 showing little enforcement or transparency of lobbying laws.  The 2006 laws resulted in real disclosure of city lobbying activity for the first time and changes to campaign finance law preventing lobbyists from having their contributions matched with public funds.  Citizens Union testified at every public hearing of the City Lobbying Commission in 2011 and 2012,   issuing 14 recommendations  , seven of which were adopted in the Commission’s  final report issued in March 2013.   Citizens Union also testified   to the City Council on the proposed legislation in November 2013, which resulted in the law being amended to require the City Clerk’s Office to modernize their database within two years, ensuring that the lobbying information that is collected is actually made publicly available.

Election Modernization

Two bills were signed into law by Mayor Bloomberg this week to modernize elections in New York City: (1) requiring online ballots to be put online, and (2) allowing contributions to be given to candidates via text messages.  CU released in 2010 a report showing that NYC lagged behind many other counties in the state by not posting ballots, which prompted the City Board of elections to respond and put ballots online starting in 2011.  This new law codifies that practice.

Regarding the new law to allow contributions to be given via text message, this item was been supported by Citizens Union through testimony to the City Council in 2012.

ELECTION REFORM

In anticipation of another low voter turnout for the October 1st runoff election – a measly 5% of registered Democrats essentially selected the next Public Advocate for the city – CU championed for instant runoff voting (IRV). IRV creates greater choice by allowing voters to rank their preferences for candidates.  It also addresses issues surrounding the timing and cost of holding separate runoff elections, while preserving a mechanism to attain a consensus party nominee with strong voter support going into the general election. This could save New York City up to $20 million per election cycle by avoiding separate runoff elections, while allowing all voters to participate in an instant runoff.  For more information, see CU’s   Issue Brief and Position Statement on Instant Runoff Voting.

Citizens Union succeeded in getting the City Council to hold a hearing on legislation that would put IRV in place for citywide positions and for special elections sponsored by Councilmember Brad Lander, as well as separate legislation sponsored by Councilmember Gale Brewer that would ensure military and absentee voters are able to participate in runoff elections through IRV, and   called on the City Council to act.  In October, CU was able to gather advocates, election officials and a number of elected officials at a   press conference   on the steps of city hall in support of the legislation.  But as the year drew to a close, our momentum was stymied by the changing of the guard with a new mayor and city council speaker.

CU called on the State Legislature to pass this legislation at the state level at a recent hearing of its Election Law Committee, at which it   delivered testimony .

 

RULES REFORM

Citizens Union, through our candidate evaluation process, is building on our long-standing work on City Council Rules, which was first begun in 2005 as discretionary funding reform to ensure that the next Council embraces much-needed changes to make for a more democratic and deliberative legislative body while maintaining a strong speaker.

Last month, Citizens Union hosted a forum attended by all of the seven Council Speaker candidates in collaboration with Baruch College of Public Affairs, NYPIRG and City & State. The event was attended by nearly 200 members of the public, including CU members, as well as the press. The morning of the forum, we released our    tally of the incoming councilmembers’ positions on our priority rules reform issues   , which found the support of a majority of the Council on issues such as limiting lulus and reducing the number of committees. Video of the forum is available on the Citizens Union website.

ELECTION UPDATES

CANDIDATE EVALUATION AND LOCAL CANDIDATES COMMITTEE

Citizens Union evaluated and interviewed 109 candidates in 49 separate contests for this past fall’s elections. 24 candidates won in the 38 seats evaluated by Citizens Union.

For the General Election, CU’s preferred or endorsed candidates who won in 2/3 citywide races – Bill de Blasio for Mayor, and Scott Stringer for Public Advocate.  CU’s candidates for boroughwide offices all won their seats: Gale Brewer for Manhattan Borough President, Cy Vance for Manhattan District Attorney, Melinda Katz for Queens Borough President, Eric Adams for Brooklyn Borough President, challenger Ken Thompson for Brooklyn District Attorney and James Oddo for Staten Island Borough President.

For City Council, CU’s supported incumbents all won their seats, and strongly support CU’s reform items: Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mark Weprin, Jumaane Williams and Donovan Richard.  For open seats and challengers, CU-backed Carlos Menchaca defeated incumbent Sara Gonzalez, who was the only incumbent to lose his or her seat during the 2013 elections for City Council.  CU’s preferred or endorsed candidates otherwise won 10 out of 18 of the open seats for City Council.

For a summary of CU’s election results for all races,  see our website.

We thank the nearly 60 hard-working members of the Local Candidates Committee for their dedication this summer and fall.   See also our  Online Voters Directories for in-depth information about all candidates interviewed by CU.

JUDICIAL BALLOT AMENDMENT

CU weighed in on one of the six proposed state constitutional amendments on the November ballot, opposing proposition number six that would have extended the retirement age for certain state trial judges, but not all of the state’s trial judges.  CU spoke frequently to the press as we were one of the few groups – and only non-legal citizens group without a stake in the issue – that took a position.  See our   press release   for more information, and an op-ed that we filed with City & State.  The proposition was ultimately rejected by the voters, with 61% voting “no.”

OTHER UPDATES

2013 AWARDS DINNER

On October 16th, Citizens Union, along with over 500 guests, came together to honor Honorees Mayor Michael Bloomberg, attorney Faith Gay, former CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, businessman and public servant Jay Kriegel, and NYU President John Sexton for their work in making New York City a better place for its citizens. The night was a great success and we were able to raise over $1 million to support our work in making democracy work for all New Yorkers.

Highlights of the evening can be found here.

 

WHO IS CITIZENS UNION?

Lindsey Boylan, Local Candidates Committee, Municipal Affairs Committee, Spring for Reform Planning Committee

Lindsey Boylan has always been interested in civic participation and began her career in urban planning in New York City. Through her career, she looked at issues of urban management and the private/public partnership and how they work together. She focused on issues such as how to create an open city and state, how do you engage as many citizens as possible in the process, how to manage public spaces well.

When she learned about Citizens Union, she knew she wanted to be involved. Soon after being introduced to CU, she joined the Local Candidates Committee at a very opportune moment, right before one of the biggest election seasons in New York City history. Being on the LCC “made the entire process very exciting” and helped her further understand the campaign process and good governance. “There isn’t another organization in the City or State, from what I know, that is that focused on governance,” she says, “while putting party politics aside to foster the City and State to a level of open government and engaged citizenry.”

“All the people who are involved are really interesting,” she said of her LCC colleagues. “They come from a variety of personal interests and backgrounds. When you join CU, you get to meet people who are really smart and have a very different perspective.” She is also excited to have recently joined the Municipal Affairs and Spring for Reform Planning Committees, becoming more involved in the organization and local politics.

After growing up in San Diego, going to high school in Washington, DC, attending college in Boston, and watching her parents move to Santa Fe, she decided to make New York City her home. “I love how dynamic New York is. It’s an incredibly global city that everyone can participate in. The people you meet are really passionate and ambitious and I think that creates an amazing output for the city. There’s no other city like New York.”


HIGHLIGHTS FROM GOTHAM GAZETTE

Gotham Gazette continues to be a reliable source for news about New York City and State politics and policy. Recently, State Government Editor David Howard King worked his sources to get a scoop on a delay in the release of the Moreland Commission’s preliminary report. The story was shared on social media and mentioned in Capital NY’s Playbook:

CORRUPTION REPORT DELAYED—Gotham Gazette’s David Howard King: “I don’t know if someone didn’t look at the calendar or something but it is the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend,” said source with close working knowledge of the Moreland Commission. “It is not going to be December 1st. … You can expect a more appropriate date shortly thereafter.” http://goo.gl/ioqvbN

Reforming Solitary Confinement At The City’s Biggest Psych Ward — Rikers Island,” a look at proposed reforms to solitary confinement in NYC jails by freelancer Caroline Lewis and based on a previously unpublished city report, obtained through FOIL, that called for limiting the use of isolation of detainees.

The City Council Speaker Race Explained” by City Government Reporter Chester Soria was a primer on the speaker race published to coincide with Wednesday’s public forum sponsored by Citizens Union. Print-outs of the story were distributed at the event, where GG live-tweeted the discussion among seven candidates and moderator Doug Muzzio.

We published City Reporter Chester Soria’s two-part story on videotape interrogations by law enforcement. The first part looked at the problem of false confessions through the lens of the Central Park Five story — which couldn’t have come at a better time given the national attention on the case after documentary filmmaker Ken Burns told The Huffington Post that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio would settle it. Soria’s second part looked at state legislation on video interrogations. The project was a partner effort with the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, a national web journal.

On Election Day, Gotham Gazette covered stories about the polls, the ballot measures, de Blasio’s election night celebration, and the results. Post-election, we published two stories: one on how City Hall’s relationship with Albany will likely change with mayor-elect de Blasio by State Government Editor David Howard King; and another by the GG staff on seven areas where the mayor elect could reshape policy.

CITIZENS UNION IN THE NEWS

Some recent highlights from our work in educating the press about the people and policies in New York government.

NY1- Candidates Tout Credentials at Third Debate as Speaker’s Race Rolls on

Politicker- Mark-Viverito Admits Staff Talked with de Blasio Over Speaker’s Race

Staten Island Advance- The Public Can’t Vote, but City Council Speaker Candidates Make Pitch Anyway

NY Daily News- Speaker Candidates Hedge on Ending Lulus, Offer Glimpses of Their Strategies

Tech President- Hearing Highlights Success and Challenges of NYC’s Open Data Law

Times Union- Elections Board Member Folds

Politicker- Six candidates have RSVP’d to Speakers Forum

WNYC- Debating Age Limits for Judges

Crain’s Insider- A Round of Headaches for NYC Voters

Politicker- Six candidates have RSVP’d to Speakers Forum

NY1- State Voters Approve Casino Referendum, Reject Raising Retirement Age for Judges

WNYC- Debating Age Limits for Judges

NY Times- Plan to Raise Judges Retirement Age to 80 is Rejected

WGRZ- On Tuesday’s Ballot Six Chances to Change NYS Constitution

Crain’s Insider- A Round of Headaches for NYC Voters

SUPPORT CITIZENS UNION

Imagine a state and local government that values citizens, functions effectively and delivers services efficiently. Make it more than idle fantasy and help Citizens Union cure the culture of corruption with a generous contribution today.  What could be more important than holding elected officials accountable to their campaign promises? Donate to Citizens Union today and join us as we continue to be an effective force for change and watchdog on city and state government.

 

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