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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 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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from Dick Dadey, Executive Director

Though the hot summer months often slow the pace in the city, Citizens Union is embroiled in some big issues and activities. As the summer began, CU saw its multi-year efforts to end partisan gerrymandering begin to bear fruit as support within the state legislature grew and favored legislation moved forward. In the City, we released a comprehensive report of fifty recommendations on how to improve the form and function of city government. And of course, CU is actively engaged in its annual evaluation of candidates running for elected office with 2010 being the year for state races. Support for and action on reform issues will define which candidates we will support. Look for us to make some welcomed choices in helping to elect candidates who will enact reform. We’d like to give special thanks to 15 dedicated interns whose time and talent have contributed in big ways to our intensive summer work. From researching charter-related details to Gotham Gazette coverage of the upcoming legislative races to coordinating and participating in CU’s candidate evaluations in preparation for this year’s Voters Directory, we couldn’t have done it without them. Read the articles that follow to learn more about what CU is doing during these “slow” summer months. I hope you are finding time to relax and enjoy the summertime with family and friends.

State Updates

Redistricting Reform

As a result of Citizens Union’s advocacy efforts, the Assembly Governmental Operations Committee unanimously passed redistricting reform legislation, sponsored by Assemblymember Michael Gianaris, in June that would create an independent redistricting commission to fairly draw district lines. This marks the first time that an Assembly committee passed a proposal to create an independent redistricting commission. Citizens Union applauded its passage in a  news release , and has worked to build greater support for the legislation, which now has a total of 48 co-sponsors in the Assembly, and 21 in the Senate – with 18 or a majority of Democrats as co-sponsors in the Senate. The Senate bill is sponsored by Senator David Valesky, and has passed two senate committees. The bills are now in the Senate Finance Committee and Assembly Ways and Means Committee. Over the coming months, Citizens Union will be mounting a campaign – ReShape NY – to create greater movement on this issue, with the goal of enacting reforms in early 2011.

 

Member Items

Citizens Union and its colleagues have been pushing for the passage of member item reform legislation which would bring fairness and transparency to the member item distribution process. Though the bill has the support of 58 members in the Assembly, it was “held” in the Governmental Operations Committee on June 24th, meaning that the bill did not move forward and was essentially defeated. 18 members in the Senate currently support the bill. Governor Paterson, however, vetoed the legislature’s member items (funded from past allotments of member item money in the budget), which Citizens Union and its colleagues supported given the lack of reform this year. Citizens Union will continue to pressure the legislature to enact reforms of the member item process in the next legislative cycle.

City Updates

City Charter Revision Commission

On June 30, Citizens Union released a report entitled  Increasing Avenues for Participation for Government and Elections in New York City  detailing 50 recommendations for City Charter revision. The report was the culmination of work dating back several years, beginning with Citizens Union’s effort to urge Mayor Bloomberg to do a top-to-bottom review of the City Charter on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the landmark 1989 City Charter Revision Commission. Citizens Union’s Municipal Affairs Committee began looking at issues impacting the charter in earnest last year, and accelerated its effort after the Mayor appointed a Charter Revision Commission on March 3rd. The internal review focused on ten areas of city government, and involved the creation of a special Task Force consisting of Citizens Union Board members, former charter revision commission members, and other distinguished members steeped in city governance. The report’s  Executive Sumary and List of Recommendations  is available on the Citizens Union website.

Soon after Citizens Union released its report, the Charter Revision Commission staff issued its Preliminary Staff Report and Recommendations to the Chair of the 2010 Charter Revision Commission, which included some of our recommendations, such as the reduction in the number of signatures needed for designating and independent ballot petitions, consolidation of the Voter Assistance Commission within the Campaign Finance Board, and disclosure of independent expenditures.

Citizens Union believes that the Commission can and should take on more than it is currently considering. On Monday, January 19th, Citizens Union   testified  before the Commission (CU Board Chair Peter Sherwin is pictured at the top left giving testimony) during the first part of a public hearing it held on the staff report. Video footage of Citizens Union’s presentation is available on the Commission’s website. In testifying before the Commission, Citizens Union explained its recommendations and conveyed to the members that the preliminary staff report favored deferral rather than action. Citizens Union called on the Commission to reach further and aim higher, consistent with their charge to do a wholesale review of City government. Citizens Union noted that many of its recommendations addressed issued that had already received widespread public attention, garnered thoughtful discussion and collected reasonable proposed solutions. Citizens Union specifically advocated for the establishment of a Top-Two election system, independent budgeting, addressing Fair Share, instituting reforms of community boards, Council redistricting, three four-year terms for Council members versus two for citywide electeds and borough presidents, reforming Council discretionary funding, lulus, and disclosure of outside income, and the inclusion of lobbying reporting and enforcement in a newly structured Campaign Finance Board.

Citizens Union remains committed to urging the Commission to adopt its recommendations, and pushing it to go further and address issues urgently needing action. As the Commission continues its deliberation, Citizens Union will be making the case at public hearings, through press conferences, and the release of reports and op-eds, that more of its recommendations are worthy of consideration for placement on the ballot in 2010.

 

Testimony on Open Data Legislation

Citizens Union in June  testified to the New York City Council Committee on Technology in Government on  Intro 29 legislation which would which would create a single web portal for City government data, create open data standards for City agencies and begin the process of putting all public government data online. In its testimony, Citizens Union recommended that a City government website be created as a “one-stop shop” for City government publications, data and information in order to allow for ease of public use, rather than creating an additional new website as proposed in the legislation. Citizens Union also recommended that general public comment be allowed throughout the standards development process, and that there be reporting on the number and types of records available online, the number of hits received by the web portal, and other issues related to implementation. The City Council is currently considering ways to improve the legislation over the summer.

Election Update

Voting Machines

This year marks the first time New Yorkers will be voting on an entirely new voting system. The state’s old Shoup lever machines are being replaced by paper ballots that will then be fed into a scanner by the voter. The Board of Elections in the City of New York is holding demonstrations around the City and has established demonstration centers for voters to walk in and test out the new machines. To learn more about these machines and what you can expect on Election Day, visit the Board’s website and also keep your eyes open for advertisements around the City about the new way to vote.

 

Gotham Gazette Highlights

Recent highlights are below.

Unions Pick Up Tab for Councilmembers’ Legal Bills

In this investigative piece, City Government Editor Courtney Gross uncovered how legal defense funds financed by unions have picked up the tab for City Council members who violated city election laws.

New York Looks to Board High Speed Rail

Faster trains are picking up speed throughout the country, but so far New York remains stuck in the station.

Two for You and Three for Me

Some City Council members who voted in 2008 to let their colleagues serve three terms could see themselves forced from office after only two. How could that happen?

Who Got What: The FY2011 Edition

When it comes to bringing home the bacon, some City Council members do a lot better than others.

Events

Attorney General Primary Debate

Citizens Union held its first statewide candidates debate in July. As part of our own candidate review process and as a way help our members and the public at large learn more about the candidates, we held a debate with the five Democratic candidates for Attorney General. The debate, with over 150 people in attendance, touched on substantive issues that are important to all New Yorkers. The candidates in attendance were Richard Brodsky, Sean Coffey, Eric Dinallo, Kathleen Rice and Eric Schneiderman. They were asked how they would push reform in Albany, how they would fight public corruption, and what they believed made them the best candidate for the job.

Who is Citizens Union?

Anusha Rasalingam

For Anusha Rasalingam, it is not a far stretch from her background in international human rights to working with Citizens Union to make sure that city and state government effectively serve the public.

“There is still a lot of work to do [in New York City] to address the needs of middle and lower income working people and make sure jobs stay here, ” said Rasalingam. “Citizens Union does a good job of shining a light on the issues and [government] processes that need to be addressed so that public resources are used to address public need rather than special interests.”

Rasalingam is currently an associate at Friedman and Wolfe where she represents labor unions. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1999, Rasalingam worked as legal counsel for the City of New York on issues such as campaign finance reform, education, parks and recreation, human rights, environmental protection, and economic development. After leaving the City Law Department in 2003, she joined the Citizens Union Board so that she could remain involved in the issues facing New York City.

“Citizens Union’s Board is unique in that everyone on it has interest and experience in issues that affect the city,” said Rasalingam. “The Board is engaged and there is substantive discussion.”

Rasalingam loves living in New York City for its incredible diversity and the opportunity to explore new cultures right in her own back yard.

“You can be a tourist in your own city,” said Rasalingam. “You can go to any neighborhood and feel like you’ve traveled to another city or country.”

Membership Expired? Renew Today!

From evaluating candidates for the NYS Legislature to advancing City Charter changes that create more effective city government, our work thrives in direct proportion to your membership support. Whether a basic $30 membership or something beyond – $100, $250, $1,000 or more – your dollars get the job done. Join today, and spread the word: Citizens Union strengthens democracy daily by fighting for policies that serve the broad public interest, not narrow special interests.

 

Citizens Union In the News

To read recent coverage of our work visit the In the News section of our website.

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