|Engaging New Yorkers to Reform Government||Vol. 2, Issue 7|
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.
Though a new year is now upon us, many of last year’s unfinished issues have returned and frame our agenda. The optimism over the potential for state reform is not as exuberant as it was a year ago, but the commitment from the Governor remains strong and the need even greater. The strategy for forward movement on the reform agenda will capture less public attention though the pace of work will continue apace.
With two years remaining in his term. Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment to reform remains strong as well. He announced two major initiatives aimed at changing the administration of elections and taking a long view of the city charter and our structure of local government.
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In his State of the City address last week, Mayor Bloomberg made two important reform pledges of great interest to Citizens Union. First, he announced that he would work with Citizens Union in a campaign to end the patronage-laden administration of New York State elections. Citizens Union has long argued that the citizens of New York have not been well served by the partisan nature of the New York State Board of Election. Partisan election administration has resulted at times in gridlock and ineffective management. One of the reasons for the delay in implementing the federal law HAVA can attributed to the way our election administration is structured. Citizens Union and the Mayor’s office will advocate for the removal of the current bi-partisan requirement for members of the state and local boards of election, and will be offering recommendations for nonpartisan restructuring.
In addition, the Mayor said that he will form a new charter revision commission to take a serious and much needed look at how well city government has functioned twenty years after the historic City Charter changes of 1989. New Yorkers now have the benefit of twenty years of experience to help assess whether the changes were effective in improving government’s form and function in service to the citizens it represents. This commission’s review is important and necessary, and we look forward to participating in such a comprehensive evaluation of the charter and analysis of city government.
Citizens Union will also undertake its own wholesale review of the 1989 restructuring of City government which, among other actions, abolished the Board of Estimate. This review will be done alongside the work of a new Charter Revision Commission, to be appointed by Mayor Bloomberg and active over the next eighteen months.
Earlier this month, Citizens Union released its reform agenda for the City of New York. While positive steps were taken last year to strengthen the campaign finance program and create needed guidelines for the proper use of City Council member advertisements, there is more work to be done in structural reform and other key policy areas. The ambitious and necessary outline list of recommended reforms includes: continuing elections reform, strengthening the campaign finance program, and improving government openness, performance, accountability, and oversight. Specific among these recommendations are developing an extensive public education program to prepare for the shift to new voting machines, creating greater public access to city council public hearing materials, overhauling the compensation decision process for City Council members and restricting stipends, and ensuring sufficient and effective public oversight of police misconduct. To read our detailed agenda, please click here.
This month the New York State Board of Elections submitted a revised plan for HAVA implementation in response to action by the U.S. Department of Justice in the ongoing lawsuit regarding New York’s noncompliance with the Help America Vote Act. Part of HAVA requires new voting machines in all polling locations that allow disabled voters to cast their ballots privately and independently, among other things. New York State missed the January 2006 implementation deadline and has yet to select new voting machines for each of the state’s polling locations. The new plan requires that ballot marking devices are placed in every poll site by this September in time for the state primary elections and November presidential elections, and that new voting machines, to replace the old Shoup lever machines, be in place in time for the primary and general elections in 2009. Counties will be expected to select the BMD they will purchase for use in 2008 within the next few weeks, and the SBOE expects to complete certification of new voting machines to be used in 2009 by November of this year. The judge presiding over the case is requiring that the SBOE carry out the submitted plan or run the risk of having a special master be appointed by the court to expedite completion. In addition the SBOE must submit weekly reports to the court on their progress toward full compliance.
This week, the SBOE approved three different ballot marking devices counties must select from to be placed in every poll site this fall. The models are the Sequoia Imagecast, the ES&S Automark and the Premier Automark. Counties have until February 8 to make their selections before the SBOE steps in and selects a machine on their behalf.
With the busy 2008 and 2009 election years, CUF plans to work with community partners and the NYC Board of Elections to begin educating voters about the new voting systems in order to familiarize voters with the new machines before they enter poll sites and cast their ballots.
CUF conducted its 2007 poll worker recruitment program in the last two months of 2007 in order to encourage people to apply to be poll workers in the February presidential elections. The effort successfully recruited 1,661 applications which were forwarded to the Board of Elections to be available for work during the 2008 election cycle. CUF will be recruiting poll worker applications once again for the September state primary, and November presidential election in 2008. Our efforts will focus on recruiting language interpreters as well as college-age applicants, with the introduction of new ballot marking devices this year and new voting machines in 2009.
A reminder that New York’s presidential primaries will be held on February 5, 2008. You can find your polling location at www.vote.nyc.ny.us or for any questions you can call 1-800-VOTE-NYC. You can find the list of candidates on the New York City Board of Elections website.
Governor Spitzer delivered this year’s state of the state address on January 9th. In advance of the address, Citizens Union, along with Common Cause/NY, the League of Women Voter/N.Y.S., and NYPIRG, held a press conference to outline their shared priorities for the coming year. Please see “CU in the News” for coverage of the press conference.
In this year’s address, there was only passing reference to government reform issues, a marked difference from last year’s address. In his speech, the Governor considered the budget and ethics reforms that were enacted as part of several 2007 accomplishments, and at the end, included campaign finance reform in a laundry list of items that were not finished in the previous year. Some of the key policy items advanced in the speech were creating an “endowment for higher education” by leasing the NYS lottery, increasing health coverage of uninsured children, creating a commission on property taxes, and investing in the Upstate economy through a $1 billion revitalization fund. He compared the current Upstate economic situation to that of New York City in the 1970s, and stated that “now is the time for us to come together and do for Upstate what our predecessors did for New York City a generation ago”.
A more collaborative approach was taken, with the Governor asking for a moment of silence in remembrance of the passing of Senator Bruno’s wife, and thanking both Democrats and Republicans in the legislature for their work on various issues. For the full text of the speech, please click here.
The United States Supreme Court handed down its 9-0 decision on New York State Board of Elections v. Lopez Torres on January 16th, ruling that the current New York State judicial nominating convention system does not violate the first amendment, and upholding New York’s party nominating conventions for judges and reversing the lower court’s decision. To read the decision and concurring opinions, please click here. To see the New York Times editorial following the release of the decision, please click here .
Ms. Lopez Torres brought suit against the NYS Board of Elections after failing to be nominated by the Democratic Party at conventions in both 1997 and 2002, claiming that the failure was due to her refusal to make patronage hires. Justice Scalia delivered the opinion, arguing that political parties have a First Amendment right to limit membership and choose their own candidate selection process. Justice Scalia commented that the other avenue for getting on the ballot, running as an independent candidate, has “perfectly reasonable” requirements for signatures and deadlines. Furthermore, the opinion states that the U.S. Constitution does not give federal courts the authority to prescribe a method to discourage party monopoly.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Stevens and Souter quoted former Justice Thurgood Marshall, who had “remarked on numerous occasions” that “The Constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws”. New York State should heed this quote, and reconsider its current convention system. When the case was heard in Appellate Court, Citizens Union had issued an amicus curie legal brief (Missing) supporting the plaintiffs claim that the process was in fact unconstitutional.
In 2008, Citizens Union will continue to engage our elected leaders in state government to work toward a more responsive, transparent and accountable government that will instill greater public confidence in the public policy decisions that are made. While strides were made last year in ethics and budget reform, greater reform is needed in these and many other areas. The 2008 agenda includes recommendations for reforms of the legislative redistricting process, elections (including the restructuring of the State Board of Elections and local boards), campaign finance, the budget process and its presentation to the public, governance of public authorities, and the strengthening of the newly formed Commission on Public Integrity. To read our detailed agenda, please click here.
Alan Rothstein serves as General Counsel to the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, where he coordinates the extensive law reform and public policy work of this 22,000 member Association. Founded in 1870, the Association has been influential on a local, state, national and international level.
Prior to his 20 years with the Association, Rothstein was the Associate Director of Citizens Union, staffing CU’s legislative advocacy and working with Executive Director, Vance Benguiat. His began working at Citizens Union as a policy intern while in law school. Rothstein started his legal career with the firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Prior to his legal career, Rothstein worked as an economist in the environmental consulting field and for the New York City Economic Development Administration.
Mr. Rothstein first joined the CU Board in 1986 and has chaired the State Affairs Committee for more than a decade. In addition he serves on the board of directors of Volunteers of Legal Service and on the New York State Bar Association House of Delegates.
“I enjoy focusing on governmental process issues, which is CU’s bread-and-butter. I believe the process drives the substance, and the reforms of governmental structure and process that CU advocates would help make the State Legislature more effective and responsive, a change that is sorely needed. While a staff member I appreciated the opportunity to advocate for “good government” issues in Albany, and to convey the integrity of our organization.
“I am proud of my involvement in challenging the 1982 City Council redistricting plan that short-changed minority voters, thus forcing the Council to become more diverse. Citizens Union helped lead a civic coalition that brought City and State districting issues into the public arena, making clear that the results of redistricting were not only a concern to the political parties and legislators, but to the public as well.”
Also a look at City Council’s resolutions — they’re not just for New Year’s. Gotham Gazette’s parks writer examines the latest twists and turns in the city’s efforts to turn a Bronx landfill into a golf course, and two experts weigh in on the newest ideas in the heated debate over congestion pricing — here and here.
Be sure to check out Gotham Gazette on February 4 when we present the presidential candidate’s view on key urban issues — just in time for the February 5 Super Duper Tuesday primary
Please take a moment to renew your membership in Citizens Union. With your support, we will be better able to seize the important opportunities ahead in 2008. We will seek more effective government, further limit the role of special interests, and advance the public good in Albany and at City Hall.
When you stand with us for good government, Citizens Union is stronger and grows more influential than ever. Our recent successes demonstrate the importance of New Yorkers coming together in a nonpartisan call for ethics, integrity, and accountability in government. Help make reform a reality!
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- January 22, 2008, Does Kevin Sheekey Have Your Attention?, The New York Observer
- January 18, 2008, Bloomberg to NYC (and America?) “Open Your Eyes”, Gothamist
- January 18, 2008, Mayor Hails City’s Immigrants and Innovation, The New York Times
- January 18, 2008, Councilman is Penalized for Violating Finance Law , The New York Times
- January 17, 2008, Text of Mayor Bloomberg’s state of the city speech, Newsday
- January 12, 2008, Where’s the Bill? Constituents wonder what DiBlasio’s doing�in Iowa , The Brooklyn Paper
- January 11, 2008, Spitzer’s Speech Sparse on Government Reform, Newsday
- January 9, 2008, Good government groups want reform back on track, The Ithaca Journal
- January 9, 2008, Governor urged to help poor, back reform, Democrat and Chronicle.com
- January 8, 2008, Know Your Mayors: Seth Low, The Bowery Boys Blog
- January 8, 2008, Civic groups to law out government reform agenda, WCAX TV News
- January 4, 2008, Vacant City Clerk Post Will Likely Go to Bronx’s Diaz, The New York Sun
- December 24, 2007, ,Searching for Friends, Spitzer Warms to Lobbyists The New York Times
- December 21, 2007, CFB Adds to Ad Restrictions, The Daily News