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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

Just like we are anxious to see the snow melt, so too are we interested in seeing opposition thaw to needed reforms here in NYC and Albany. Two big issues cresting right now is state campaign finance reform and city council rules reform, both of which should be decided by April 1.   One would lessen the influence of campaign contributions in state policy making; the other would make the council a stronger legislative body. For these and other efforts that CU is involved in as we work to make democracy work for all New Yorkers, read below and see how your support is bringing about change in our elections, campaigns, and government.

STATE UPDATES

TAKING DOWN ALBANY’S “FOR SALE” SIGN

Stymied by a reform-resistant legislature but bolstered by a corruption-weary public, Governor Cuomo ratcheted up the pressure by including in his executive budget a sweeping proposal to restore some shred of public integrity in Albany by reforming ethics and campaign finance laws. Citizens Union this week called  for the governor to remain strong in his latest quest to reform Albany and urged legislative leaders to join him in taking down the “For Sale” sign that epitomizes the pay to play culture of our state government.

The action follows an earlier call by Citizens Union 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.  Read our  news release, 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.  The inclusion of ethics and campaign finance reform in the budget comes on the heels of the  Moreland Commission’s Preliminary Report released in December.

MORE SUNSHINE IN THE FORECAST FOR ALBANY

After helping to make city government more transparent with December enactment of  Intro 132-A (Brewer) that ensures city government’s public meetings are recorded and webcast, Citizens Union turned its attention to pressing the state legislature to do the same.

The State Senate’s Investigations and Government Operations committee passed S.3046B (Marcellino), a bill that requires the entire legislature to webcast its committee meetings and post all votes online within 24 hours of the votes having been taken.  NY1 did a story on the movement of the bill out of committee featuring Citizens Union.  Sadly, the Assembly appears not ready to take up the needed transparency measure.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Outlining our list of positions on state reform issues, we released last month  our annual state public policy agenda. One of CU’s top priorities for the year is ensuring the passage by the voters during the 2014 state elections of the constitutional amendment to put in place a new independent redistricting commission.  CU began a campaign to reform the redistricting process for this most recent cycle in 2005, and in 2014 will continue this important work to finally put an end to the practice of legislators drawing their own district lines.

CITY UPDATES

TIME FOR A MORE DEMOCRATIC CITY COUNCIL

New York’s powerful mayoral form of government needs an effective check.  It’s why the city council needs a strong speaker supported by an engaged representative legislative body in order for sound government to exist in NYC.  With the selection of a new City Council speaker, and 21 new members of the Council, CU is working to ensure that the campaign pledges of members in support of reforming the City Council Rules – the operating rules for how the City Council conducts its business – are realized.

In congratulating Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito on her selection as speaker, CU trumpeted the support by a majority of the Council for major rules changes.  Next week, the Council holds an historic public hearing on its internal operations and Citizens Union will be there championing this reform issue it first put before the council eight years ago.  Given the commitments made by many councilmembers, the possibility exists for real change.  We have also been keeping tabs on City Council “lulus” – stipends that are provided to members for service as committee chairs and in other positions.  Though a majority support their elimination for all but leadership positions, members doled them out again this year.   But the amounts were less than in the past and there was more equity among them.

CITY ELECTIONS MORE COMPETITIVE DUE TO PUBLIC MATCHING SYSTEM

Unsurprisingly, elections for city posts are more competitive than those for state offices in NYC,  according to testimony Citizens Union recently provided to the New York City Campaign Finance Board.  Major findings showed that City Council races are uncontested in only 1 of 12 races, compared to 1 in 5 state legislative races, and that more candidates run for office in City Council races, giving voters greater choice. This research was updated from CU’s report in 2012, ” Fair Elections for NYS: How Public Matching Creates Greater Voter Choice and Competition.”

 

REFORMING CITY’S OUTDATED CIVIL SERVICE RULES

No effective organization in today’s world operates with work rules dating back decades, but for New York City.  It’s why Citizens Union began tackling this sensitive issue during a Civic Conversation on Civil Service Reform it held at New York Law School last month.

There was a lively discussion with Panelists Arthur Cheliotes of CWA 1180, Henry Garrido of DC 37, Carol Kellermann of the Citizens Budget Commission, Michael Jacobson of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, and Ronnie Lowenstein of the NYC Independent Budget Office.

Shaping the discussion was an NYU Capstone team report developed for Citizens Union, “ Tensions, Trends and Trade-offs: Recommendations Toward an Equitable, Efficient and Effective New York City Civil Service System.” The NYU Capstone Report was developed in 2011-2012, in the context of recommendations made by Mayor Bloomberg’s Workforce Reform Task Force and the response issued by the Municipal Labor Committee.  The reports provides an important primer on the history and origins of the New York City Civil Service System, its current structure, and policy options that Citizens Union will be considering in seeking to advance common ground solutions.

THE VOTING DEAD

Among the more damning findings in a Department of Investigations report on the city’s board of election released in the final days of the Bloomberg administration was that DOI investigators were able to cast ballots for voters who were dead or should have been removed from the rolls.  This breakdown showed the continuing structural weaknesses in the city board’s ability to run elections.

The report detailed policy and management issues at the Board of Elections in the City of New York, making more than 40 recommendations to improve Board operations.  Many of the issues presented in the report, from improving ballot design to recommending Instant Runoff Voting for runoff elections have long been advocated by Citizens Union.  CU reps met with then Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn (who has since been named as the Chair of the city’s Campaign Finance Board) and her investigative staff as a new Inspector General Unit was formed at the Department of Investigation in 2013, and detailed many of the issues facing the Board that were referenced in the report.  CU was also directly mentioned as raising at one of the Board’s public meetings the need to print fewer ballots overall to save taxpayer dollars by better aligning the number of ballots printed with historic voter turnout rates at individual poll sites.

 

NO MORE SQUINTING AT THE BALLOT 

Urged by Citizens Union to create more readable ballots after the 2013 general election when even magnifying glasses offered little help in deciphering candidate names in 6 point font, the City Board of Elections increased the font 66% to 10 point.  The changes which include tailoring ballots to the primary language of individual voters, creating a minimum font size for candidates’ names, and using visuals to convey how to vote came as a result of CU presenting concrete suggestions on how to print more legible ballots while complying with the law.  The board of elections did right by the voters this time and is to be commended for this administrative action.

IN CASE YOU MISSED THIS TOO

At the city level, Citizens Union has issued its 2014 City Public Policy Agenda, which provides our reform positions on a host of city policy issues.

In looking toward the beginning of a new administration in city government, CU also released Good Government in 2014: A Blueprint for New York’s City Officials which provides a framework for our new city officials to build on the progress made by previous administrations to ensure an accountable and efficient government that it responsive to the people it serves.  The ten-point plan contains Citizens Union’s principles of good government and values that make democracy work for all New Yorkers.  We issue these at the start of a four-year government cycle in which all three citywide officeholders are new, and the council has twenty-one new members and a new speaker.

 

GOTHAM GAZETTE

Gotham Gazette continues to be a reliable source for news about New York City and State politics and policy.

The Black, Puerto Rican Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus is prepared to apply pressure on the Cuomo administration this election year to ensure their signature issues are addressed, as covered by David King.

Learn of Mayor de Blasio’s laundry list of initiatives to tackle economic injustice with freelancer Sophia Rosenbaum’s coverage of the State of the City Address.

A repeat performance might be in store for the Women’s Equality Agenda, reported King, with the votes and strategies threatening to play out exactly the same as a year ago.

City Government Reporter Chester Soria covered what turned out to be an intense City Council hearing for Mark Peters, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pick to lead the Department of Investigations, and in which CU  Executive Director Dick Dadey also testified.

Freelancer Sophia Rosenbaum covered Citizen Union’s first civic conversation of the year, looking at the state of civil service in New York City and the current workforce’s needs under a new administration.

Soon after new City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced her leadership team and committee chairs, Soria broke down the appointments and explored the role that each of the 44 committees play in the Council.

 

CITIZENS UNION IN THE NEWS

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

NY Times – Bill Would Put Face on Anonymous Attack Ads

WSJ.com– Advocates: New hope for NY campaign finance reform

Times Union- Campaign finance reformers take a hard line

NY Daily News- Good Government Groups Urge Gov. Cuomo To Stand Firm On Campaign Finance Reform

Capitol Confidential- Goo-Goos: Skelos is lone obstacle to public financing

NY Daily News- Manhattan pols trash Upper East Side waste transfer station

Times Ledger- Losing candidate Brown owes big campaign bucks

WSJ.com– New York City Mayor’s Call Is Criticized

Capital New York- Playbook: Mayor’s wiggly budget; Jeter sendoff; Comcast surprise

NY Daily News- Winners and weasels

The Nation- In Her New Role, NYC’s First Lady Could Increase Transparency

SUPPORT CITIZENS UNION

Our state and city policy agendas for this year outline our plan for 2014 and the issues that still need to be addressed in order to make democracy work for all New Yorkers. With your support, we can continue to be an effective force for change and a watchdog on city and state government. Our plans for 2014 include policies that if enacted would ensure that state and local governments function effectively and deliver services efficiently to their citizens. So show your support and  donate today!

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