|Engaging New Yorkers to Reform Government||Vol. 7, 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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2012 is just over a month old and given the amount and flurry of activity, it seems like much more time has gone by.
Issues, successes and opportunities fill this first CU newsletter of the year. The most important one remaining on the docket, but with a resolution soon to occur, is redistricting. This reform is desperately needed to end once and for all the power of the legislature to draw its own district lines. The best case in our years-long campaign as to why New York State needs to create an impartial process was made when the legislature released its first set of proposed maps. In one word, they are atrocious! The bizarre forms of the districts set new lows for how creative gerrymandering can create never before seen shapes and sizes for electoral districts.
Resigned to the reality that no time exists to create a truly independent process for drawing fair maps for 2012, we are pressing the Governor to veto these maps – the inevitable product of a partisan, legislative-driven process – unless significant changes are made and lasting and permanent reform can be achieved. The power of the pen must be taken from legislators to prevent future partisan gerrymandering.
But there is much more going on than redistricting, so please read on to learn about our local campaign finance success, plans for a statewide effort on campaign finance reform and movement on many other policy fronts.
And as always, thank you for the support you provide that makes so much of our work possible and successful!
As we begin another year of advocacy on behalf of all New Yorkers, Citizens Union would like to pause for a minute and recognize the passing of community leaders who spent their lives dedicated to making New York City a better place. In the last year we have lost several active Citizens Union members who contributed much to our work through the years. CU Board Member Sally Goodgold was a tireless and passionate advocate on land use issues who almost every city elected official knew, serving for many years on CU’s Local Candidates Committee before joining the CU board in 2006. Pat Dolan, active in the Local Candidates Committee, was also a member of the ReShapeNY coalition through her leadership of Queens Civic Congress and was well known in Queens political circles. An ardent public transit advocate, Pat was hit by a car on her way to a community meeting on transportation. And Connie Eristoff a former CUF Board member and highly regarded public servant, philanthropist and lawyer, was long active in environmental and transportation issues, including service as Regional Director for the EPA.
Citizens Union continues to push hard for redistricting reform while recognizing the timeframe is increasingly compressed for reform to be achieved via statute for the 2012 maps. In January, Citizens Union and ReShapeNY issued a public statement of our immediate and long-term goals given the late stage we are at in the redistricting process, calling for an impartial process to be applied for the 2012 lines, and a constitutional amendment to be achieved to ensure long-term reform.
Citizens Union also testified along with its ReShapeNY partners at hearings in Albany and New York City on the draft maps released by the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR). We condemned the severely gerrymandered lines (see the case study in gerrymandering at left, proposed Senate District 20 in Brooklyn), pointing out how they violated the constitutional principles of compactness and respect for the integrity of political subdivisions, manipulated the allowable population deviation size between districts, and did not adequately create opportunities for minorities to choose candidates of their choice. We also made clear to the legislature that we planned to call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to use his veto threat to dramatically improve the maps and veto them should they remain as is.
Citizens Union commended Governor Cuomo for identifying campaign finance reform in his State of the State address as being among his priorities, specifically mentioning the need for a public campaign finance system modeled on the system in New York City and a stronger enforcement mechanism. Citizens Union has long advocated for reform in this area to end the pay-to-play culture in Albany. We are currently working with our good government partners and other civic groups on this issue to form a campaign seeking to reduce the influence of too much money in our state’s political system and achieve substantive change this legislative session. Over 100 groups in this burgeoning effort, including Citizens Union, recently sent a letter to Governor Cuomo supporting the reforms that he outlined in the State of the State Address, and will continue to be active through the legislative session.
Citizens Union’s 2012 State Policy Agenda is now available and contains our policy positions on a broad range of state issues important to us – creating fair district lines before the 2012 elections and putting in place permanent reform for future years, campaign finance reform, simplification and modernization of the state’s court system, and more.
CU’s priority at the city level has been to introduce and move forward legislation related to our 50 recommendations to the 2010 City Charter Revision Commission . CU staff has been working throughout the last year to draft bills for introduction with supportive councilmembers. Below are a few highlights of our work in this area the last two months:
- Citizens Union joined with Councilmember Brad Lander to introduce a bill that will require the City Board of Elections to report data required by the Mayor’s Management Report to the City Council. This will better measure the Board’s performance against key metrics for evaluating its administration of elections.
- Working with Councilmember Jessica Lappin, Citizens Union drafted legislation establishing a poll worker program that will give incentives for municipal employees to work on Election Day in order to enhance the pool of competent and able poll workers.
- Citizens Union collaborated with Councilmember Jumaane Williams to put forth a proposal mandating city agencies to report the number of completed voter registration forms they submit to the City Board of Elections from New Yorkers who register to vote when seeking agency services.
- To create greater awareness of elections on the ballot in New York City, Citizens Union and Councilmember Mathieu Eugene introduced a bill that will provide additional information in the Campaign Finance Board’s Voter Guide on all elections occurring in the city, including local, state and federal races.
We are also pursuing administrative changes at the Board of Elections in the City of New York and through the Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME). Following a Council hearing in November at which Citizens Union testified regarding MOME, Citizens Union along with our good government partners have met with MOME to discuss its efforts to make city government more transparent. We anticipate in the next few months that Council and mayoral proceedings, including Council committee hearings, will be broadcast live rather than on delay on public access channel 74.
Citizens Union applauded the Second Circuit of the US Court of Appeals in December for upholding crucial “doing business” restrictions in the city’s campaign finance law. The law limits contributions of those who do business with the city, exempts these contributions from receiving a public match, and bans contributions from LLCs and LLPs. CU had submitted an amicus brief supporting the city law in 2010, providing the legal rationale for why the city system is both constitutional and needed to ensure public confidence in government.
Citizens Union’s 2012 City Policy Agenda is now available and contains our policy positions on a broad range of local political reform issues – lobbying reform, improving election administration and voter turnout, reforming the city’s discretionary funding process, and more.
On Tuesday, March 20, 2012, a special election will be held to fill the vacancy in New York State Senate District 27. The seat was vacated by Carl Kruger, who resigned after pleading guilty to bribery. The 27th Senate District encompasses parts of Brooklyn including Bergen Beach, Mill Basin, Marine Park, Flatlands, Gerritsen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach, Gravesend, Midwood, Ocean Parkway and Homecrest. To see if you live in Senate District 27, see the City Board of Election’s poll site finder. The Democratic candidate is Lewis Fidler, who currently represents New York City Council District 46. The Republican candidate is David Storobin, an attorney and Vice Chair of the Brooklyn GOP. Citizens Union plans to evaluate this race, and will inform you of our decision before Election Day.
VOTER REGISTRATION DEADLINES FOR MAR. 20th SPECIAL ELECTION IN SENATE DISTRICT 27
- The last day to mail (postmark) a voter registration form for this race is February 24, 2012, and it must be received by the Board of Elections by February 29, 2012.
- March 9, 2012, is the last day to register to vote in person.
- The last day to postmark an absentee ballot application is March 13th, and the last day to apply in person or postmark an absentee ballot is March 19th.
- The last day to deliver an absentee ballot in person is on Election Day, March 20th.
To download voter registration forms, locate polling sites, and find other information about this election, visit http://www.vote.nyc.ny.us/
The Gotham Gazette kicked off the new year by following the State of the City and State of the State and providing coverage of the budget presentations of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Below are highlights of these stories and more.
Jane Timm takes a look at Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s State of the City address and examine what the city should expect in the coming months.
Timm also looked at efforts to decrease fines on street vendors. Advocates say current fines are arbitrary, while opponents say that street vendors must be regulated.
We took a look at Cuomo’s push for a convention center in Queens and campaign finance reform, as well as the things he left out–hydrofracking and redistricting.
Our environmental writer examined the staffing and funding at the Department of Environmental Conservation as critics insist it’s no longer capable of regulating hydraulic fracturing.
Gotham Gazette also kept close tabs on issues plaguing the New York Police Department. Freelancers looked at how community members try to criticize “stop and frisk” without looking like they are attacking the NYPD, in Community Members Struggle With Stop and Frisk. Igor Kossov examined the impact of NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly’s involvement in an anti-Muslim video and calls for greater oversight of the NYPD in Controversial Video Sparks Outrage at NYPD. Kossov also broke a story about the CCRB’s struggle to hire an attorney to prosecute police misconduct cases despite a hiring freeze in City Hall and CCRB Negotiate Over Hiring Freeze.
SAVE THE DATE! SPRING FOR REFORM
Wednesday, May 23rd, 6-8:30pm
On May 23rd, fans of effective, accountable government will once again meet up at Manhattan Penthouse for an evening of cocktails and conversation, reconnecting with past colleagues and meeting new ones. This year’s event brings together themes of technology, democracy and community. Interested in helping out? Contact Bethany Wall, by email or call 212-227-0342 ext. 16.
Tony Mattia first became a member of Citizens Union over ten years ago because of the Voters Directory, which he and his wife regularly used to help them choose who they would vote for in Brooklyn elections. They were also readers of Gotham Gazette, and this civic education aspect of CU’s work is what drew him in, leading him eventually to join CU’s Board in 2007.
“CU’s work is important work, because it’s not obvious work,” Tony said. “Although these are issues that are at the core of our democracy and how government functions, they’re not easy issues for people to think about. That we go into them in great depth is a big service to the public.”
Tony lives in Brooklyn Heights and runs a boutique financial advisory firm specializing in strategic planning as well as mergers and acquisitions advice to investment management firms and regional banks. He earned his MBA at NYU’s Stern School and worked for over 20 years at JP Morgan where he led the Corporate Mergers and Acquisitions Division.
Except for college at Georgetown University, Tony has always lived in Brooklyn. He was born and raised in Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge and his Brooklyn roots go back for two generations. His grandparents emigrated from Sicily and Calabria, and the history and diversity that he descends from are also what he loves about New York City.
“I like that New York City is a series of neighborhoods each of which is different,” Tony said. “I like the ethnic aspect of different neighborhoods, and that New York plays such a big part in the immigration history of the U.S.”
Tony also likes that much of the early part of our nation’s history took place in New York City. Indeed, the ideals of government by the people and for the people that informed the structuring of our democracy in those early days is what Citizens Union seeks to uphold.
“Having a group like CU that’s nonpartisan and focused on government accountability, effectiveness, fairness and disclosure is really critical,” said Tony.
When you break it down, Citizens Union is all about making democracy work for all New Yorkers. More transparency means that more New Yorkers can hold their elected officials accountable to the communities they represent. Become a member today or make a tax-deductible gift, and help make democracy thrive in New York City and State.
To read recent coverage of our work visit the In the News section of our website.