|Engaging New Yorkers to Reform Government||Vol. 6, Issue 1|
IN THIS ISSUE
About Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation
Citizens Union of the City of New York is an independent, nonpartisan 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 nonprofit 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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As you read the many items below, you will see that since our last report to you in late November, it has not been a quiet time as sometimes the transition from one year to another one can be.
Most importantly, with 2011 in full swing, Citizens Union is gearing up for our big public push on legislative redistricting reform and recently launched Councilpedia.org under the auspices of its publication, GothamGazette.com. Councilpedia is a new online tool that allows New Yorkers to follow the work and political activity of their local elected officials – including campaign contributions and expenditures. To learn more about Councilpedia, see an interview with Gotham Gazette Editor Gail Robinson and me on NY1’s Inside City Hall promoting the site, as well as Gotham Gazette’s Highlights below.
Enjoy reading about what we, and our many active members, have been up to, and get ready for a very active, and hopefully, productive year.
Citizens Union’s 2011 State Policy Agenda is now available and contains our policy positions on broad range of issues important to us – redistricting reform, election reform, campaign finance reform, government reform, judicial reform, budget reform, and legislative rules reform.
Governor Cuomo delivered his first State of the State address on January 5th, outlining his priorities for the year ahead. You can watch the speech or find materials on the Governor’s website. Among the priorities outlined by the Governor were redistricting and ethics reform, two issues which Citizens Union has championed and has brought to the forefront of attention in the last two years. Redistricting reform must occur in 2011 before the new district lines are drawn based on the 2010 census, and Cuomo has pledged to veto any lines drawn by the legislature that reflect partisan gerrymandering. Speaker Silver also surprisingly but welcomingly indicated in his remarks before the State of the State support for redistricting reform, and a majority of legislators in both houses support changing the redistricting process and forming an independent commission. Regarding ethics reform, Citizens Union helped to shepherd the passage of ethics legislation by the legislature in 2010 – which was ultimately vetoed by Governor Paterson – and will be an active participant in shaping any new ethics legislation in 2011.
As CU works to hold legislators accountable for the pledges they made during campaign season, CU is forming a statewide campaign to end partisan gerrymandering – our central public policy goal for 2011. We call it ReShapeNY, and over the last two months, we have enlisted the leadership of several high profile campaign co-chairs and close to 20 organizations. This diverse group of stakeholders will help set the strategy and implement campaign goals, bringing about change in the redistricting process. ReShapeNY includes citizen groups, business leaders, and advocacy organizations from both sides of the political spectrum and from all across the state. The coalition will lobby the legislature and engage, educate, and mobilize the public to demand change. Our first group meeting was held on February 2nd. We plan to go public with the campaign by the end of February, followed by the release of a comprehensive CU report on redistricting.
At a hearing held by the Senate Democratic Majority last December on redistricting, Citizens Union pressed for the creation of an independent commission to draw the lines for congressional and state legislative districts. In its testimony calling for an independent redistricting commission , Citizens Union specified that the commission members would be selected through a two-step filtering process that would distance those drawing the lines from legislators and others who have an inherent conflict of interest in participating in the process. The transcript of the hearing, as well as testimony of groups is available on the Senate website. An independent commission, along with specific guidelines for drawing district lines and greater transparency of the process, are the three important pillars of redistricting reform that Citizens Union presented at the hearing. The Senate Democrats have subsequently offered their support for an independent commission.
Citizens Union joined with its good government colleagues, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), the League of Women Voters, and Common Cause/NY, in releasing a report on the funding of campaigns for state office in 2010. The report reaffirms what has been routine in Albany for far too long: candidates for office overwhelmingly rely on special interests, lobbyists, party committees and wealthy individuals to fund their campaigns. Recommendations in the report include reform of campaign finance laws, closing loopholes, lowering contribution limits, restricting intra-party transfers, and establishing a public matching system to fund campaigns similar to that in New York City.
Citizens Union’s 2011 City Policy Agenda is now available and contains our policy positions on a broad range of local political reform issues – election reform, campaign finance reform, city council reform, government performance and functioning, and government accountability and oversight.
Citizens Union attended the Mayor’s State of the City address last month in Staten Island. The mayor primarily focused on economic and fiscal issues, highlighting efforts to create job opportunities for New Yorkers and ease the burdens on small businesses. The mayor devoted a good portion of his address to advocating for greater home rule for the City related to civil service and pensions. The mayor would like the City to gain greater authority over establishing the parameters for pension benefits as well as for civil service issues like hiring, promotion, and removal of City employees. Citizens Union will be exploring these critical issues in the months ahead given their fiscal implications for the City’s and State’s budgets. In January, Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and his staff met with Citizens Union’s Municipal Affairs Committee to discuss the administration’s proposals to reform the civil service system.
Citizens Union in December joined with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, our good government colleagues, state legislators, and members of the City Council at a press conference calling for election reform in New York State . Mayor Bloomberg unveiled a report on election reform pointing out the State’s antiquated election practices in areas ranging from registration deadlines to the time period for voting. As noted in the report, New York is just 1 of 4 states that has not expanded access to primaries, casting votes through alternative means such as by mail, or expedited voter registration. Citizens Union worked with the mayor’s staff to devise recommendations to address New York’s antiquated election processes in advance of the report’s release. We look forward to advancing these issues at the State Capitol in conjunction with the mayor and supportive state legislators.
Prompted by Citizens Union’s release of its study of sample ballots practices in New York which found that 27 counties posted sample ballots online prior to Election Day, the Board of Elections in the City of New York passed a motion in December 2010 to put sample ballots online for future elections. The motion also specified that ballots would be provided through the board’s online poll site locator, meaning that voters will be able to find their poll sites and ballots by simply entering their addresses. Citizens Union released a statement commending the Board for this important reform, which will allow voters to see the design of the ballot in addition to the contests they will vote for prior to Election Day, and avoiding many of the problems seen during the Primary Election in 2010.
Citizens Union provided testimony evaluating the Board of Election’s performance on Election Day in December to the City Council’s Governmental Operations Committee. Citizens Union remarked on the improvements made by the Board following its dismal Primary Day performance, and called on the Council to explore its own authority through local law and its power over the purse to compel the Board to make reforms. While the Council did pass a resolution requesting the Board of Elections provide data for the Mayor’s Management Report, they have not taken any further action to date.
At the urging of Citizens Union, however, the Board has taken action administratively. It has kicked off a campaign to reach out to high schools, colleges, senior centers and other sources to register voters and recruit poll workers. In conjunction with that campaign, Citizens Union has suggested the use of an online application for poll workers, and utilizing emails from poll worker applications to conduct enhanced communications with New Yorkers related to election activities. The Board adopted the idea of a voter survey regarding Election Day, something Citizens Union devised and implemented with the City Council. Citizens Union is urging the Board to create greater transparency for its weekly meetings, including webcasting proceedings and posting minutes and supplemental materials online in a timely manner. Lastly, the Board has committed to releasing more data in its upcoming annual report so that most of the metrics requested by the Mayor’s Management Report will be disclosed albeit not reported to the Mayor
On Feb. 3, Gotham Gazette launched Councilpedia, a new section of the site designed to help New Yorkers follow links that may exist beween their elected officials and the people who fund their campaigns. Funded partly by a grant from the Knight Foundation, Councilpedia brings together in one place an unrivaled amount of information on the members of the New York City Council, the public advocate and the comptroller. Councilpedia allows readers to search by contributions from specific industries or interest groups, contributors that are doing business with the city, and much more. Finally – and importantly – Councilpedia allows readers to share what they know about money and politics in New York by submitting user comments. We hope you will take advantage of this unique feature.
Councilpedia has already attracted lots of attention, from the Daily News to the New York Post to NY1’s Inside City Hall and other media outlets. Check out Councilpedia for yourself and find out more about your City Council member.
Also recently in Gotham Gazette:
The Empire State has fewer women legislators than the national average, has no women in leadership positions in the Capitol and has never had a woman governor.
With the opening of a new center on the East Side, the city says it is poised to lure cutting-edge jobs to the five boroughs. But New York has a lot of catching up to do.
One percent of New Yorkers have 44 percent of all income here, the sharpest split in any big U.S. city. James Parrott looks at why we grow ever farther apart.
Black cab or yellow cab? Metered fare or flat rate? The Bloomberg administration plans to bridge the taxi gap and establish a new system for car services in the outer boroughs.
The backlog of 911 calls during the snowstorm and the failure to get help to people in need has refocused attention on efforts to upgrade the city’s emergency communications system.
Mark your calendar! Spring for Reform 2011 will take place on Wednesday, May 25th, and we hope you’ll join us! More detail soon, but to pique your interest, this year we will celebrate dedicated individuals whose work on sustainable food systems in New York has fostered the burgeoning urban farms and food policy initiatives that are helping New Yorkers thrive. Want to get involved? Contact Bethany Wall: [email protected] or 212-227-0342 ext. 16.
Marjorie Shea has been a member of Citizens Union for more than two decades. When she moved to New York City from Ithaca in 1986, Marjorie, a public high school teacher who had been active with the New York State League of Women Voters, joined the New York City chapter and worked closely with Citizens Union on the 1988 city charter and advocating for a state constitutional convention. CU supported the convention at the time while the League opposed it. Marjorie, who was in favor of the convention, ended up speaking about it at CU events. The next natural step was for her to join.
“I got a notice to pay my membership dues, and I did,” said Marjorie.
Marjorie has always been deeply involved in election reform issues. She was the New York State League of Women Voters’ Election Law Director in the early 90s, served on Mayor Koch’s Elections Project to replace lever voting machines and currently represents the Women’s City Club on the New York State Voter Coalition, which monitors implementation of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002. She also reports on the weekly commissioners’ meeting of the NYC Board of Elections.
“New York City is the largest election jurisdiction in the nation,” said Marjorie. “It is extremely important how New York City implements new federal [election] laws.”
In her early years at CU, Marjorie was active on the Local Candidates Committee and covered the City Council in the late eighties for Citizens Union Foundation’s now defunct print publication “Searchlight on City Council.” Marjorie currently serves on the State Affairs Committee which she appreciates for the high level of discussion with experienced and talented colleagues.
“As a reform organization [CU’s] opinions on an issue are valued,” said Marjorie, “because people know they’ve done the research, gotten the data, and are taking a rational, reasoned stance.”
Help Citizens Union ReShapeNY! From redistricting reform to fair elections to voter access at the polls, we work daily to strengthen YOUR voice and YOUR representation in our shared democracy. And we can do even more with your help. Join CU as a member, (membership starts at $30) and consider making a tax-deductible contribution to Citizens Union Foundation, our research and education affiliate that publishes Gotham Gazette.
To read recent coverage of our work visit the In the News section of our website.