|Engaging New Yorkers to Reform Government||Vol. 6, Issue 4|
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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The legislative session may be over, but our campaign to end the rigged process of drawing partisan drawn district lines by creating an impartial process remains in high gear. We are pushing the legislature to return in special session to pass legislation doing just that. There are those who think the chance for such reform has passed, but we strongly believe not. To know more about our work in this arena and on other reforms, read below.
Though the regular legislative session ended last month, Citizens Union continues to push for redistricting reform by calling upon the state legislature to return in special session and pass legislation immediately ending partisan gerrymandering and creating an independent commission to draw impartial district lines.
Before the end of the legislative session, our coalition – ReShapeNY – placed phone calls to independent voters in key State Senate districts educating them about redistricting and the campaign pledges made by their elected officials. We asked these voters to contact their representatives to pass redistricting reform. Overall, we placed nearly 3,000 calls, leaving 1,148 messages and receiving 279 commitments from voters to contact their legislators. We have also sent over 1,650 emails through our online advocacy platform. Together the emails and calls represented a considerable grassroots advocacy effort.
Following our significant efforts during the legislative session, ReShapeNY coalition members have shifted gears to push for the legislature to come back to address unfinished business: redistricting reform. Legislators are likely to come back due to other pressing issues such as health care exchange legislation. Citizens Union and Ed Koch released a statement calling for the legislators to return to Albany this summer to put an independent commission in place to draw lines before the 2012 elections. ReShapeNY members delivered this message by holding press conferences and testifying to the current body responsible for drawing lines, the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) at hearings in Syracuse and Rochester. Video of the hearings is available on LATFOR’s website. The groups repeated the call that the legislature needs to return to Albany during a special session to act on their campaign pledges and pass redistricting reform legislation.
We have also activated CU members and other members of the ReShapeNY coalition for our summer campaign, sending 220 emails and counting to Governor Cuomo thanking him for his reiteration of his pledge to veto lines drawn under the current partisan system. We have also sent 222 emails to date to legislators calling on them to urge legislative leaders to return to Albany to pass redistricting reform. To take action, visit Citizens Union’s online action center.
Another component of our summer activity is generating support among editorial boards to support our call for a special legislative session to pass redistricting reform. To date, editorials have been written by the New York Times, Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle, the Albany Times Union, the Oneida Dispatch and the Henrietta Post.
Citizens Union in June released an updated report on the number of state legislators first elected in a special election . The report found that one-quarter of state legislators were first elected in a special election in which the parties chose the candidates on the ballot, leaving voters with few choices. CU’s 2007 report found that the number of legislators elected through special election was nearly one-third. The updated 2011 report also noted that turnout in special elections averaged only 12 percent over the last four years. CU’s research came on the heels of five vacancies in the state legislature and a number of other possible vacancies that, if filled by special elections, would bring the total percentage of legislators first elected in a special election to nearly 30 percent. Citizens Union urged the Governor to not call a special election, but rather to let the regular process play out this fall with a primary and general election, giving voters more candidates to choose from. The Governor ultimately called special elections for six vacant seats for Tuesday, September 13th, over which Citizens Union and its colleagues expressed disappointment. More details on the races are below in our elections section.
Following CU’s development of lobbying reform recommendations for the City Lobbying Commission, the Commission recently met and passed a resolution requiring the staff to write a report reflecting its recommendations it plans on adopting, which will include half of those put forward by Citizens Union. The recommendations followed input from the public at four hearings, three of which Citizens Union testified at. Among the Commission’s recommendations were seven proposals advanced by Citizens Union or related to our recommendations .
The Commission’s report will include the following CU-backed proposals:
- requiring mandatory training for new lobbyists;
- expanding the definition of lobbying to include the period before bills, resolutions and rules are introduced;
- expanding search functions on the city’s lobbying database to allow for better analysis of lobbying activity;
- administering an amnesty program for lobbyists, particularly small organizations who have been unaware of the requirements, to report their lobbying activity;
- suggesting the State exempt lobbying reporting for those exclusively filing with the City,
- requiring the City Clerk’s office to report to the MMR; and
- enhancing disclosure in the annual report of the City Clerk to feature information like the most active lobbying firms and the amount of money they spend lobbying.
More ambitious Citizens Union recommendations that were not part of the Commission’s recommendations include measures that would sever the perceived or actual connection between campaign contributions and lobbying. It was felt this issue would be better addressed through a comprehensive examination of the campaign finance laws.
The City Lobbying Commission will release a draft report in August to the Council with specific legislative proposals to change the lobbying laws.
As noted above, a special election has been called for Tuesday, September 13th to fill vacancies in several state legislative seats. Four of the seats are in New York City. The candidates and the races are below, with some of the neighborhoods covered by the district. Go to the City Board of Elections website to find your district number and poll site. For more information, see also Gotham Gazette’s coverage of the special elections.
- 23rd Assembly District, previously held by Audrey Pheffer — Queens (Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Far Rockaway, Broad Channel, Breezy Point)
- Phillip Goldfeder (D, WF, I)
- Jane E. Deacy (R, C)
- Vivian R. Carter (G)
- 27th Assembly District, previously held by Nettie Mayersohn — Queens (Flushing, College Point, Corona, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill)
- Michael A. Simanowitz (D, WF, I)
- Marco Desena (R, C)
- Justin Wax Jacobs (NY for Reform) – ballot status pending legal challenge
- 54th Assembly District, previously held by Darryl Towns — Brooklyn (Bushwick, Cypress Hills, East New York)
- Rafael L Espinal Jr (D, R, C, United We Can)
- Jesus Gonzalez (WF)
- Deidra Towns (Community First)
- 73rd Assembly District, previously held by Jonathan Bing — Manhattan (Upper East Side, Midtown East)
- Daniel Quart (D, WF)
- Paul Niehaus (R, I)
As the state legislative session drew to a close in June, Gotham Gazette state government editor David King kept a close watch on the proceedings, which sometime went nearly round the clock. King reported to readers of Gotham Gazette and the Wonkster, a blog for breaking news, on actions affecting city residents. In particular, he examined what the legislators did beyond approving marriage equality, including renewing rent regulations for city apartment dwellers.
Earlier this month Gotham Gazette launched “The Tattered Safety Net,” a series on policies that address the problems of poverty in New York. The series kicked off with a piece by longtime contributor Glenn Pasanen on the Bloomberg administration’s anti poverty efforts. The second article, by Vicky Plestis, examined the demise of so-called “safety net hospitals” in New York. Future stories will look at feeding the hungry, issues facing young people who age out of foster care, poverty among families of people serving prison time — and more.
Also recently in Gotham Gazette:
As the governor begins to make good on his pledge to close prisons, some question his decision to shut a facility on Staten Island.
An international art and energy competition focusing on Fresh Kills could boost efforts to turn the one-time garbage dump into a fuel source and a world-class park.
Gotham Gazette staff, aided by five busy interns, is updating Councilpedia to put in the latest member items, campaign donations and expenditures. Stay tuned to Gotham Gazette to find out when this information becomes available.
Did you miss Citizens Union’s 2011 annual meeting on June 16th? In addition to the business of voting in this year’s board slate and learning about the organization’s financial status and programmatic work, CU members were privy to a conversation between journalist-authors Peggy Noonan, Jeff Greenfield and John Avlon, who served as moderator. Noonan and Greenfield placed today’s partisan political landscape in historical context and discussed what has – and has not – changed in the practice of politics and policymaking over the years, helping the audience consider the role of nonpartisan solutions in bridging the divide. You can watch the conversation on video if you missed it.
Citizens Union’s 2011 Awards Dinner will take place on Thursday, October 27th at The Pierre. Last year’s event was a smashing success financially and otherwise, with many guests proclaiming Citizens Union’s event as their favorite gala in recent memory! This year’s honorees include Sheila L. Birnbaum, Special Master of the 9/11 Health Fund and Partner at Skadden Arps; Julie Menin, Chairperson of Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan and founder of Wall Street Rising; and Gary P. Naftalis, Partner and head of the Litigation Department at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP.This annual event is a critical component of our annual income. Your support of this event helps our work thrive! For reservations, sponsorship opportunities and more information, please contact Kristine Bruch at 212-228-7446 x15 or [email protected]. You may also purchase tickets or make a contribution online.
Raised in Iowa, CU Board Member Nancy Bowe first moved to New York City in 1985. “Serendipity brought me to New York City. My husband and I came from Chicago for what we thought would be two years, discovered brownstone Brooklyn, and the rest is history,” said Nancy. She now is an active member of the downtown Brooklyn community, serves as Chair of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, and is on the board of The HOPE Program, which fights poverty by helping New Yorkers achieve economic self-sufficiency.
She worked on a number of local issues in Brooklyn with Dick Dadey, CU’s Executive Director, who introduced her to Citizens Union. Through CU, she found a means to address her community’s frustration about the lack of action on important issues. “Through my involvement in Brooklyn, I had a lot of interactions with city and state government and elected officials. Much was positive, but there are always frustrations about the process,” said Nancy.
Nancy joined the State Affairs Committee at a time when it was reviewing the budget process in Albany, bringing her financial background to CU’s development of budget reform recommendations. “The State Affairs Committee is such an engaging group of people, bringing different perspectives to the table for nonpartisan solutions on important issues,” said Nancy.
Also active with CU’s development efforts, Nancy has served as a co-chair of CU’s spring fundraiser, Spring for Reform, and was involved in designing the program at its start. Her goals were to create a less formal event and to attract a younger audience. “It was fun starting from scratch and creating the event, and we have been tweaking it to make it better every year,” said Nancy. “With the Community Leadership Award, we draw the connections between civic involvement and the importance of strong, transparent government for communities.”
For Nancy, CU’s strongest asset is the quality of its research and caliber of its members and staff. “CU elevates and amplifies the civic conversation of how to make government better,” said Nancy. “Work we do is fact-based and well-vetted. We take issues beyond the politics and into the policy in ways that make it possible to make real steps forward.”
Here are three quick reasons why we urge you to become a member, renew your membership or make an additional gift for CU’s work today:
- Your membership reinforces our work with elected officials
- We keep you in the loop on policy developments
- Your dollars help us achieve results!
Support Citizens Union today and help us spread the word by telling a friend!
To read recent coverage of our work visit the In the News section of our website.