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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

Tis the season for countless addresses by elected officials describing what the state is of the “union, state, city or borough.” Though these speeches are many in number, they are important guideposts to know not only what their focus will be, but what we can use to judge them against.

Our new Governor certainly has wasted no time in making his presence felt in Albany. Both his tradition breaking proposals and unconventional style have been noticed. Our hope is that Governor Spitzer’s aggressive pursuit will bring about needed reform in Albany, and not result in a backlash that causes the entrenched interests to circle the wagons and bring the fight to the kind of stand-off that has for far too long defined our state government’s approach to addressing critical problems. Our hope is that these changes will result in Albany never returning to its old ways.

CITY UPDATES

Reforming the Budget Dance

At the end of January, Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn announced budget reform measures aimed at simplifying the annual ‘budget dance’ that each year is a ritual performed by the City Council and the Mayor’s office. The practice entails the Mayor proposing cuts to Councilmembers’ favorite projects and critical city services that they have no real intention of cutting. To win back the cuts, the City Council spends its time and effort fighting to restore those proposed cuts each year, instead of more thoroughly examining and evaluating many of the public policy choices that make up a government’s budget. Last year, the Mayor and the Council agreed to no longer subject library funding and summer youth jobs to the budget dance. Under the new agreement, the Mayor will now provide a new level of “baseline” funding for certain programs at the same as last year. In this year’s $57.1 billion preliminary budget the Mayor has provided the “baseline” funding for three program areas: support for cultural institutions, parks, and children’s services. He has set aside $38 million for cultural affairs programs, $14 million to pay for routine park maintenance and parks workers, and $10 million for childcare programs run through the Administration for Children’s Services. The reform should bring needed stable funding to these core city services and also provide greater public scrutiny to city budget decision making. It is also possible that these reforms will be expanded to include other services in future years. To view, Citizens Union press statement on the reforms, click here.

 

Pros and Cons of New Voting Machines

Despite the many delays and challenges New York State has faced in selecting new voting machines, the process has slowly moved forward in New York City. In January the City Board of Elections held 3 final public demonstrations in Manhattan, Staten Island and Brooklyn. At these demonstrations, vendors presented their machines to the public and there was the opportunity for voters to test drive the different models being presented to the city. Among the contenders were optical scan models by both ES&S and Diebold companies and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines from the Sequoia and Avante companies. The City BOE also held a hearing following the three demonstrations to allow the public an opportunity to give their impressions and feedback of the various voting systems and the way voters will cast their ballots in the future.

Citizens Union Foundation testified at the Board of Elections’ public hearing and the City Council hearing on Resolution 131, which urges the Board of Elections to select optical scan machines for use in New York City. Based on the comments of the CU members and staff that participated in the demonstrations and shared their feedback, CUF found that the DRE machines provided the greatest ease of use. However, CUF recognized that the optical scan machines’ gave the greatest sense of security because of the presence of a voter marked paper ballot. Feedback included a preference for Sequoia’s system to distinguish voided and valid paper ballot receipts on its DRE machine and concern with the way the Diebold optical scan machine notified the voter of only one specific under or overvotes on their ballot even though there may have been more. CUF also stressed the importance of sufficient training for poll workers, as they will play a vital role in the transition process. Click here to read the testimony in its entirety. CUF has not decided to support one system over another, but rather has advocated for adherence to stringent guidelines for either system, ensuring security and ease of use.

 

STATE UPDATES

“Mixed Bag” of Ethics Reforms

Governor Eliot Spitzer got off to a quick start on January 1 by announcing a series of ethics reforms that would apply to the executive branch (see  January issue of the Reformer .) On January 24, Governor Spitzer and legislative leaders announced they had reached agreement on a comprehensive package of ethics reforms. While the proposal included many measures that civics groups have been urging for years –- a ban on all gifts to public officials, prohibitions on lobbyists paying for the travel, lodging and other expenses of any state official, and higher penalties for lobbying violations, among others — the package also included some aspects that the good-government community received less enthusiastically. Citizens Union and its colleagues were specifically concerned with the disbanding of the Lobbying Commission, which has proved to be the most effective government watchdog agency under the leadership of David Grandeau, and the formation of a new state agency, the “Commission on Public Integrity,” that consolidates the authority and responsibilities of the Lobbying Commission and the State Ethics Commission into one body, but leaves out oversight of the ethical conduct of state legislators, which as proposed falls under the control of the Governor (by virtue of the nominations process which gives the Governor the ability to appoint 7 out of the 13 commissioners.) No one branch of government currently controls the Lobbying Commission. Citizens Union and its civic partners issued a collective response to the proposal praising the good elements and voicing concern with those items with which they were less sanguine. The legislative leaders have put the bills on hold for the near term to resolve technical issues.

The good-government response and CU’s statement on ethics reform are available  here . And state Assembly information about the bills themselves are here.

 

CANDIDATES EVALUATIONS AND ENDORSEMENTS

CU Endorses Candidates for Special Election in Brooklyn’s 40th Council District

Zenobia McNally and Wellington Sharpe Secure Joint Endorsement in Crowded Field of Talented Candidates

Citizens Union announced this week its support for two candidates running for the City Council seat being vacated by Yvette Clark in central Brooklyn. The election will be held Tuesday, February 20th. After extensive interviews with the candidates for the 40th council district, Citizens Union has issued a joint endorsement for Zenobia McNally and Wellington Sharpe. While the organization prefers to issue an endorsement to a single candidate, it found that these two candidates stood out amongst a crowded field of well-qualified candidates. With ten candidates vying to fill the shoes of the former council member, narrowing the field to support just one candidate was difficult. Citizens Union issued a  news release  with write ups of the endorsed candidates’ qualifications and completed CU questionnaires from all of the candidates are available on the Citizens Union website.

Due to scheduling difficulties, Citizens Union will not evaluate candidates for the Special Election in Staten Island’s 51st Council District in which Republican Assemblymember Vincent Ignizio faces Democratic backed Manny Innamorato.

 

Who is Citizens Union?

Bob Kaufman, Vice President of Citizens Union Foundation

  Bob Kaufman, a partner in Proskauer Rose LLP, has more than forty years of experience working as an attorney in the public and private sectors. Prior to entering private practice, he served as a member of the Department of Justice, Antitrust Division, followed by several years in the United States Senate as Legislative Assistant to the highly regarded Senator Jacob Javits.

Through his work on the restructuring of New York non-profit hospital groups and the legislative development of the New York hospital reimbursement system, Kaufman helped to change the face of health and hospital law in New York. He is the author of various Bar Committee publications and co-editor of the widely praised four-volume Health Care Law Treatise, which was published by Matthew Bender in August, 1991.

In addition to serving of the Citizens Union board since 1990 and as the longtime Vice President of Citizens Union Foundation, Bob Kaufman is a tireless leader in numerous civic, professional and non-profit organizations including as President of the American Judicature Society; President and Executive Committee Chair of The Association of the Bar of the City of New York; Chair of the New York State Board of Public Disclosure; member of the Executive Committees of The Legal Aid Society, Volunteers of Legal Services and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest; Executive Committee member of the West Point Board of Visitors, and member of the Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.

“Before we married, my wife whose professional name was Sheila Kelley was the producer of the radio and TV program ‘Citizens Union Searchlight’. And I learned even more about CU’s good works when I was President of the New York City Bar and worked with CU on a lot of good government issues.

“Throughout its history of a hundred years, but never more than today, Citizen’s Union has been the wise, fair and unrivaled source of unbiased information about our great City. I could not do without it!”

 

EVENTS

CU and CUF plan a series of programs for members and the public beginning this spring. There will be evening Civic Conversations and a return to our Breakfast Briefs. Look for further details and invitations in your inbox and snail mail box.

Save Thursday, June 28th for the second CU Gotham Reformers Reception to be held again at NYU’s Kimmel Center. Look for more details in future editions of The Reformer.

Gotham Gazette Highlights

 

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Please let your friends and colleagues know about how Citizens Union is working to make reform a reality and encourage them to join our organization to be a part of advancing political reform and good government Click here to forward this newsletter. Click here to join Citizens Union or renew your membership

Citizens Union In the News

• February 7, 2007, “On Trip to Israel, City Council Members Take Rocket Fire,” The New York Sun
• February 1, 2007, “New York’s Already Shamefully High Campaign Contribution Limits Climb Even Higher,” Empire Information Services.
• January 31, 2007, “Good-Government Groups Want Public Input on Ethics Bill,” The Ithaca Journal
• January 30, 2007, “Concerns Raised Over Proposed Voting Machines,” The New York Sun
• January 29, 2007, “Bloomberg Adding $226 Million for Nets, Mets, Yanks?,” The Village Voice
• January 25, 2007, “Spitzer, Leadership Agree On Ethics Reform Measure,” The Ithaca Journal
• January 24, 2007, “A Mixed Response,” Capitol Confidential
• January 24, 2007, “Mayor, City Council Carve Out Budget Deal Ahead Of Address,” NY1

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