|Engaging New Yorkers to Reform Government||Vol. 1, Issue 9|
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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Happy New Year and welcome to CU and CUF’s first issue in 2007 of The Reformer. Not only has the weather been different these past few weeks in New York, but the political climate has changed dramatically in Albany with the inauguration of reform minded Eliot Spitzer, David Paterson, and Andrew Cuomo as Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General respectively.
I had the pleasure of being the guest of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Speaker last Wednesday and sat in the Assembly chamber for the new Governor’s state of the state address. To hear his strongly worded commitment as Governor — and not just as a candidate — to bringing reform to state government in Albany was a good government reformer’s dreams come true. In working with our good government colleagues, CU is prepared to support and push for much of the Governor’s reforms. With your support and involvement in working with CU, we hope to see a totally different approach to government, campaigns, and elections. 2007 may well be a defining year for the reform movement in New York.
I thank you, as members of CU and supporters of CUF, for the support you have provided us to make possible our work these past few years. In the coming weeks and months, we will occasionally send you updates and calls to action beyond your receiving The Reformer. We will try not to inundate your email inbox, but will want to give you an opportunity to lend your voice in support of these historic opportunities for change. If you would like to become even more involved by serving on one of our policy committees, I would invite you to contact me directly at [email protected].
Best wishes to you and to all of us in the political reform and good government movement for a prosperous and productive 2007.
Public Demonstrations of Voting Machines
As New York prepares to replace the old lever voting machines, the New York City Board of Elections is holding demonstrations of new proposed machines and public hearings to provide a forum for public comment. Demonstrations in Manhattan and Brooklyn follow three demonstrations in the other boroughs and a public hearing. Citizens Union attended the November public demonstration in the Bronx and pushed for additional opportunities to maximize public involvement throughout this process at a subsequent hearing. Since problems with new machines have been reported across the country, it will be important that New York learns from the mistakes of other states and chooses a machine that operates securely, counts votes accurately, and instills trust in the voting process. Citizens Union continues to work for secure, accurate and voter friendly elections.
January 11, 2007 5-9pm Machine Demonstration:
Fordham University, Lincoln Center Campus, Pope Hall
113 W. 60th Street, Manhattan
January 22, 2007 5-9pm Machine Demonstration:
Medgar Evers College, Auditorium
1650 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn
January 23, 2007 4pm Public Hearing:
Board of Elections
42 Broadway, 6th Floor, Manhattan
Citizens Union has not yet endorsed any particular type of machine, but does support high standards for the security and operation of whatever system is ultimately chosen. If you attend or have already attended a demonstration of the new voting machines, please email your thoughts, observations, and suggestions to:[email protected].
Click here to view the Board of Elections flyer for these demonstrations and hearing.
CUF Recommendations to the Voters Assistance Commission
CUF testified before the Voters Assistance Commission (VAC) and suggested ways to help make the city’s transition to new voting machines smoother:
- Vast public demonstrations when a machine is selected,
- Voter education sessions about voter’s rights encompassing HAVA changes made to the affidavit ballot process, and
- Taking a more active role in the recruitment and training of poll workers.
To read this testimony, click here.
In December, CU called on then Governor Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Bruno and Assembly Speaker Silver to postpone a final vote by the Public Authorities Control Board on the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn for a defined period of time to ensure that the public has access to important financial information and so that important issues highlighted by the public and in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement could be addressed. Though CU’s call for greater openness and public scrutiny was not headed and the Public Authorities Control Board approved the project, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver requested and received critical information about the project that had not been made public. This information apparently satisfied whatever financial concerns he had raised.
To view CU’s letter to the leaders click here.
Following each regularly scheduled municipal election, the City Council and the Campaign Finance Board review the campaign finance program and its effectiveness and impact on city elections. Each time, Citizens Union participates in that process by testifying at hearings, writing letters to the appropriate parties, and making ourselves available as a source of information and a voice for the public interest.
This December, Citizens Union Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, Doug Israel, testified before the City Council Government Operations Committee in that respect, and offered comprehensive feedback on suggested changes to the program as outlined in the Campaign Finance Board’s report on the 2005 elections: “Public Dollars for the Public Good: A Report on the 2005 Elections” issued this past September, whose leaders also testified at the Council hearing.
In addition to providing comments on the Board’s recommendations, Citizens Union called on the Board and the City Council to:
1. Enact restrictions on contributions from those who “do business” with the city,
2. Limit the amount of public money available in “sure winner” races,
3. Restrict contributions eligible to be matched with public funds to the same year as an election,
4. Lower campaign contribution limits, and
5. Address the disparity that exists for candidates participating in the program who face a well-funded or self-funded opponent.To view, Citizens Union testimony in full click here.
The Council is expected to introduce legislation soon that aims to strengthen the law and further public hearings will then be held.
On Day One, the new Governor in his inaugural address swept aside a decade of closed government and ushered in a new era of reform. To show how important reform is to his agenda, Governor Spitzer on his first day in office issued five executive orders outlining how his administration would address a number of ethical issues and practices. To view his executive orders outlining new rules and approaches to conduct in government, click here.
Never before has a Governor laid out so ambitious an agenda to reform and reshape state government, but when Eliot Spitzer delivered its first state of the state address, there was much to be happy about. In it, he called for:
- The ending of partisan gerrymandering which is CU’s #1 priority agenda item in Albany. He again announced his support for an independent redistricting commission to draw legislative lines and vowed to veto any partisan lines drawn by the state legislature.
- The lowering of campaign contribution limits, greater transparency in the reporting of gifts and campaign activity, and full public financing.
- The passage of a constitutional amendment enacting merit appointment of state Supreme Court judges, and
- A series of measures to reform lobbying enforcement and oversight, budget enactment, ethics of public officials, and public authorities operation.
To read his full state of the state address, click here.
Further emphasizing how different the political climate is in Albany, new Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced that he would conduct a review of all member items provided by the state legislature to ensure that they are in the public interest. Though many worthwhile entities, including non profits, receive in this manner much needed funds to do their good work, CU commends the Attorney General for bringing necessary scrutiny to a process that for too long has existed without public oversight.
CU joined a number of other good government groups earlier this year in submitting an amicus brief in support of the Albany Times Union’s lawsuit requesting release of the list of member items. After losing the case, the Assembly and the Senate released its list of 2006-2007 projects. This lists have been formatted in a searchable database by an “anonymous tech guy” in cooperation with the New York Daily News. Click here for links to the assembly member items lists and here for the Senate member item lists.
To read Cuomo’s news release about what he plans to do on member items, please click here.
Responding to the recent decision by Federal District Court Judge John Gleeson that the current judicial convention process to select Supreme Court justices is unconstitutional, the New York State Assembly and Senate have been holding hearings on how to respond to the decision and reform the process. Citizens Union has long supported a merit based appointment process to replace the flawed judicial nominating conventions.
In testimony delivered to the New York State Assembly on December 15, Citizens Union reiterated its support for merit appointment of judges, for all courts of record, and also provided specific suggestions for interim measures to reform the current process until a constitutional amendment could be passed to implement a merit based appointment system. Finding flaws with both reform of the conventions and direct primary elections of candidates, Citizens Union urged that should either method be implemented, they be so as interim measures only, with specific sunset provisions to ensure that the legislature keeps its focus on the more comprehensive merit appointment remedy. To read the full text of Citizens Union statement click here.
While the great majority of Supreme Court justices who serve the people of the State of New York are fair, honest and qualified to hold office, the judicial nominating conventions that select candidates for the Supreme Court are one of the last vestiges of a no longer acceptable party patronage system. Citizens Union looks forward to working with the State Legislature and the Governor on permanent and temporary remedies to ensure the creation of a system that selects the most qualified and independent candidates for judicial office.
Kicking off the 2007 legislative session, and the ushering in of a new Governor, Citizens Union and its civic partners the Brennan Center, Common Cause, League of Women Voters, and New York Public Interest Research Group issued a statement calling on Governor Spitzer and legislative leaders to embrace a package of ethics reform. Given the series of recent controversies and scandals involving state lawmakers, and the fact that 2007 is the 20th anniversary year for the state’s ethics law, the groups released their “Top 10” list of ethics reforms for the new year.
In addition to the embarrassing fall from grace, and the unacceptable behavior of the state’s former Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who used state dollars to pay for a chauffeur for his ailing wife, over the past few years, four legislators have been convicted of crimes and another four are under investigation.
In response to growing pressure to clean up Albany and institute a more stringent set of ethical guidelines and laws, Governor Spitzer implemented by Executive Order the following prohibitions that apply to all state agency employees and those that serve at the pleasure of the Governor:
- Prohibition Against the Receipt of Gifts
- Prohibition Against the Use of State Property
- Prohibition Against Nepotism in State Hiring and Contracting
- Prohibition Against Executive Chamber Employees Lobbying State Agencies and Public Authorities
The ball is now clearly in the legislature’s court to adopt similar ethical reform measures to cover those that work for the NYS Assembly and Senate.
Grace Lyu-Volckhausen is civic leader, community activist, advisor to Council Member Liu, Mayor Koch, and Governor Cuomo, professor of human relations, a mother, and grandmother. Currently she serves on the New York City Commission on Human Rights, the executive committee of the YWCA of New York, and on the boards of the Prospect Park Alliance, the Korean American League for Civic Action, the City Bar Justice Center, Youth Bridge-NY and more.
“I joined CU because this is one of the very few organizations where we can find fair and non-partisan evaluations of all political issues and candidates on City and State level. As a community activist, it is very important for me to get clear guidance from CU’s information.”
Grace Lyu was the first Korean American recipient of the Ellis Island award in 1992. She works tirelessly to build bridges among ethnic groups, to advocate for children and to educate and engage all New Yorkers in the civic life of their city. She brings commitment and vision to CU and CUF’s non-partisan good government goals.
Eliot Spitzer, Governor
An interview with Brooke Masters, Financial Times reporter and author of “Spoiling for a Fight: The Rise of Eliot Spitzer,” about Spitzer’s new job as governor
• January 5, 2007, “Cuomo to Review Spending on State Lawmakers’ Pet Projects,” The New York Times
• January 4, 2007, “A Kinder And Gentler Speaker,” The Daily News
• January 2, 2007, “Groups Call For Overhaul of State Ethics Laws,” WNYT Albany.
• December 21, 2006, “Will Day One Be D-Day?” Queens Ledger
• December 8, 2006, “Public Funding May Go Up For Underdogs, “The New York Sun