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About Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation

Citizens Union is a nonpartisan good government group dedicated to making democracy work for all New Yorkers. Citizens Union serves as a civic watchdog, combating corruption and fighting for political reform. We work to ensure fair and open elections, honest and efficient government, and a civically-engaged public. Principled and pragmatic, Citizens Union is an independent force for constructive reform, driving policy and educating the public to achieve accountable government in the City and State of New York.

Believing an informed citizenry is the cornerstone of good government, Citizens Union Foundation publishes, an award-winning news and policy website, as a significant component of our public education program.

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from Dick Dadey, Executive Director

Election season is in full swing in NYC – not the all-consuming presidential election, but rather important contests for state legislative seats. The legislature saw fit to change the date of the primary for state races from Tuesday, September 11 to Thursday, September 13 (please take note), making it the third party primary election of 2012, with the Republican Presidential Primary in April and Congressional Primaries in June. Why New York should have three primary election dates in one year boggles the imagination, and what is more stupefying is the inattention by our state leaders to changing our state’s campaign finance laws as we watch the flow of millions of dollars into our state’s campaigns. Record high contribution limits and inattentive oversight crowd out the public’s ability to wield its own influence during critical campaigns.

CU did bring about one important change at the City Board of Elections, however, which will lead to quicker and earlier reporting of unofficial vote totals which will be more reliable, hopefully avoiding future controversies like we saw in the congressional primary contest between Charles Rangel and Adriano Espaillat. And to bring a bit of citizen engagement in a crucial race for the state senate seat now held by retiring Tom Duane, Citizens Union is hosting a candidate debate in District 27 on Monday, August 20.

They say New York slows down in the summer, but as you read below, Citizens Union is anything but slowing down. We are however finding some time to enjoy the hot summer days. Hope you are too.


State Updates

Campaign Finance Reform

Fair Elections

Citizens Union made campaign finance reform a major issue during the legislative session working with our partners under the umbrella of Fair Elections. While the issue received a level of attention that it hasn’t in years, a bill remained mired in Albany gridlock and did not pass. To help move the issue along and build support for a measure that can be enacted, Citizens Union is integrating into our candidate evaluation process detailed questions about campaign finance reform so that legislators will be held accountable for changing the state’s outdated campaign finance system that is characterized by lax rules and tepid enforcement. Citizens Union specifically seeks replication of New York City’s public matching system at the state level so that participation by small donors in our democracy is encouraged rather than allowing for undue influence by moneyed interests. In addition to public funding, CU is pressing for other reforms that would lower contribution limits, close porous loopholes, and strengthen oversight and enforcement.


City Updates

Board of Elections Closing Procedures

Following effective advocacy by Citizens Union, the Board of Elections in the City of New York voted on July 17th to change its reporting of unofficial election results on election night so that preliminary results indicating which candidates won or lost would be tallied more accurately and made known to the public more quickly. In question was the Board’s ability to change its reporting system administratively rather than through a change in law. Citizens Union suggested the Board seek a legal opinion from the State Board at its meeting of its Commissioners on July 10th. The opinion was provided days later, clearing the way for the City Board to proceed administratively. Citizens Union also provided a legal analysis to provide further support for administrative action by the City Board. Citizens Union’s advocacy followed our efforts earlier in the spring to get passed legislation introduced by Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh and State Senator Martin Golden that clarified that the City Board could report results through transporting ballot data via portable memory devices to uploaded at centralized locations rather than tallying results using scissors, calculators and manual transcription.

The City Council on Wednesday, August 8th will be holding a public hearing on this issue, at which Citizens Union will testify, both in support of the recent reforms and its package of City election bills which are highlighted below.


CU Package of Election Bills

Citizens Union has crafted and advocated for a package of election-related legislation before the City Council that will improve election administration and enhance voter participation. The package is composed of the following bills:

  • Int. No. 613 (Councilmember Dickens) – would require email notifications of election dates, registration deadlines and sample ballots to registered voters who sign up for updates.
  • Int. No. 721 (Councilmember Lappin) – would establish a poll worker program that will give incentives to municipal employees to work on Election Day.
  • Int. No. 728 (Councilmember Greenfield) – would require voter registration forms to be provided to parents enrolling children in school.
  • Int. No. 760 (Councilmember Williams) – would require the City Board of Elections to report for particular city agencies the number of New Yorkers who completed voter registration forms.
  • Int. No. 769 (Councilmember Eugene) – would expand the City’s Voter Guide to include more city races and state and federal elections so voters are more informed about all contests on the ballot.
  • Int. No. 778 (Councilmember Lander) – would require the City Board of Elections to report data required by the Mayor’s Management Report to the City Council.

Citizens Union has been placing calls and conducting meetings with Councilmembers that has resulted in a majority of Councilmembers co-sponsoring five of the six bills, with as many as 41 of 51 Councilmembers signed on to Int. No. 613. Citizens Union has also obtained memos of support for all the legislation from 16 different organizations including good government groups, civil rights organizations, labor unions, and community groups.


City Districting Commission

The process of drawing the City Council’s 51 district lines began in July with the formation of the City Districting Commission, the appointed body that will do this important work. Significant demographic and population changes have occurred since 2002, the last time the lines were drawn. The Commission, composed of appointees from the Mayor, Council Speaker, and Council Minority Leader and balanced in terms of party and borough representation, held its first meeting on July 17th, at which the chair and staff of the Commission were selected, with Benito Romano as chair and Carl Hum serving as Executive Director. Citizens Union has sent a letter to the commission members calling upon them to strengthen the criteria used to draw the lines and use a level of transparency to its proceedings that will engage New Yorkers in providing input and needed comments. See materials provided at the first meeting for more information, or watch a video of the meeting. The first schedule of public hearings has been set, after which draft maps will be produced. The dates of the public hearings are below.

  • Monday, August 13, 5 – 9 pm: Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn
  • Thursday, August 16, 5 – 9 pm: New York Law School, 185 W. Broadway, Manhattan
  • Monday, August 20, 5 – 9 pm: Staten Island Borough Hall, 10 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island
  • Tuesday, August 21, 5 – 9 pm: Queens Library at Flushing, 41-17 Main St, Flushing
  • Thursday, August 23, 5 – 9 pm: Lehman College, 250 Bedford Park Blvd West, East Dining Room, Music Building, Bronx

To register to testify at one or more of the public hearings, you can fill out a pre-registration form. If you cannot attend in person, you may also submit written testimony.

Election Updates

Vote on Thursday, September 13th!

The next election taking place in New York State is the Primary Election occurring on Thursday, September 13th for state legislative and judicial races. Please note that the election is occurring on a Thursday, not Tuesday as is the usual practice due to September 11th remembrances.


Registering to Vote

Below are the major deadlines that voters must meet in order to participate in the primary elections. Please note that it is too late to change your party registration in order to participate in a party’s primary if you are not currently registered as a member of that party.

  • Registering to Vote by Mail: For new voters who are registering for the first time, voter registration forms must be postmarked by Friday, August 17th and received by the board of elections by August 24th.
  • Registering to Vote in Person: New voters may also register in person to vote at their local county board of elections office in person by submitting completed forms no later than Friday, August 17th.
  • Changing your Address: If you are already registered to vote in New York State but have recently moved, change of address notification (which can be submitted via the regular registration form) must be received by the board of elections by Friday, August 24th.

If you believe you have correctly registered to vote, but your name does not appear on the rolls at your poll site, you may vote by an affidavit ballot. Ask a poll worker for an affidavit ballot.


Voting by Absentee Ballot

If you are unable to appear at the polls due to: (1) being absent from the county (outside of New York City) or New York City on Election Day; (2) illness or disability; or (3) are detained in jail awaiting Grand Jury action or are confined in prison for an offense other than a felony, you may vote by absentee ballot. Voters must first apply for an absentee ballot. The deadlines for submitting the application are below, as well as the deadlines for mailing back your ballot.

  • Mailing your Absentee Ballot Application: The last day to postmark an application or letter of application by mail for an absentee ballot is Thursday, September 6th.
  • Applying for an Absentee Ballot in Person: The last day to apply in person at your local county board of elections office for an absentee ballot is Wednesday, September 12th.
  • Mailing in your Absentee Ballot: The last day to postmark your absentee ballot is Wednesday, September 12th. It must be received by the local board of elections no later than September 18th.
  • Dropping of your Absentee Ballot: If you have a friend or relative who can drop off your absentee ballot for you, it must be delivered on Thursday, September 13th to your local board of elections office.

Finding your Poll Site and Sample Ballot

To find your poll site, you can call or visit the website of your local board of elections office. If you live in New York City, sample ballots will be available near the date of the election through the City Board of Elections’ poll site locator.

Gotham Gazette Highlights

The Gotham Gazette continues to bring readers extensive coverage of important policy debates, from the soda ban to the delayed bike share program. Here are a few highlights from the past few weeks:


Trends Transforming America’s Urban Parks

The extraordinary greening of New York City over the past decade is part of – and inspiration for – a nationwide urban parks revival that has been growing over the past two decades. By Anne Schwartz.

Beverage Industry Fight Against Soda Ban Just Beginning

If beverage makers and retailers have their way, the Bloomberg administration’s next big idea to limit the size of sugary drinks to no more than 16 ounces won’t have that much fizz. What’s at stake for them is not merely consumer choice but the possibility that the ban will start a national trend. By David Howard King.

MTA Willing to Evaluate Integrated Fares for Subways, Bike Sharing

In the near future, subway riders may be able to use their fare cards to check out a bike from hundreds of nearby docking stations. The MTA said it is open to integrating fare payment with the city’s bike share program as it moves toward a wireless, smart card-based system. By Cody Lyon.

Koch, Once Courted by Indian Point, Explains Opposition to Nuclear Plant

Ed Koch has joined a growing chorus of advocates and politicians calling for Indian Point Energy Center in Westchester to be shut down, saying the aging nuclear plant poses a danger to the 8 million people who in New York City – especially in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. By Sarah Crean.


Senate District 27 Debate

On Monday, August 20th, Citizens Union will be holding a candidate debate for Senate District 27 (see the district at left and click for a more detailed map) in Manhattan from 7:00 – 8:30 pm at the LGBT Center. There is a competitive Democratic Primary Election, as the seat is open due to incumbent Senator Tom Duane retiring. The candidates in the race are Tom Greco, Brad Hoylman, and Tanika Inlaw. The details are below.

Senate District 27 Democratic Primary Debate

Date: Monday, August 20, 2012

Time: 7:00 – 8:30 pm

Location: The LGBT Center, 208 West 13th Street, New York, NY 10011 (Between 7th and 8th Avenues)

Candidates: Tom Greco, Brad Hoylman and Tanika Inlaw

The debate is being co-sponsored by NYC Community Media, publisher of the Villager, the East Villager/ Lower East Sider, Gay City News, Chelsea Now, and Downtown Express.

To RSVP for the debate, email [email protected] or call 212-227-0342 ext 47.


CU Awards Dinner 2012: Thursday, Oct. 25th at the Pierre

At this year’s event, Citizens Union will honor several great New Yorkers at The Pierre on Thursday, October 25th:

  • Dr. Antonio M. Gotto, Jr. – Former Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean and Professor of Medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University will receive our New York Leadership Award for fostering Weill’s growth and deepening the College’s presence as a community serving facility that will continue to improve our shared urban life for decades.
  • Betsy & Kenneth Plevan – Betsy Plevan is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department at Proskauer Rose LLP and husband Kenneth Plevan is a partner in Skadden Arps’ Intellectual Property and Technology Group. Together they will receive the Civic Leadership Award for their outstanding legal service and many civic actions advancing social justice, education and the public interest.
  • Jason Stewart – The Senior Vice President & Chief Administrative Officer of the leading internet company IAC will receive our Business Leadership Award for applying innovative practices to strengthen New York City’s technology, real estate and communications sectors.

Read more about this year’s honorees, then join us for the event – which provides critical income for our work each year. Rub shoulders with other civic-minded New Yorkers and remember: You never know who you’ll run into at a Citizens Union dinner! 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.


Who is Citizens Union?

Bill Herrlich

Since 2006, Citizens Union member Bill Herrlich has spent every local election season helping to inform the public whether their candidates support transparent and accountable government. As a team leader for the Local Candidates Committee (LCC), Bill leads a group of volunteers meeting face to face with candidates to ask them hard questions about where they stand on the key initiatives that will make democracy work for all New Yorkers.

“LCC is an integral part of Citizens Union’s entire effort,” says Bill. “It puts CU in front of the candidates and asks questions relative to CU’s agenda, and makes them think about it and commit.”

A born and bred New Yorker, Bill spent most of his professional life in the financial industry outside of New York City and volunteered wherever he lived. His stints included being a docent for the Saratoga Springs Racing Hall of Fame and treasurer of a Massachusetts town commission organizing bicentennial celebrations, as well as volunteer work in historic preservation, theatre festivals, soup kitchens and literacy programs.

Despite his varied activities, Bill refers to his time outside of New York City as “47 years in the wilderness.” So as soon as he retired he hurried back to his hometown. “I wanted to experience New York all the time, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” he says.

Citizens Union is grateful that he found himself a niche on the LCC. For Bill’s part he admires the commitment showed by CU’s membership to their reform agenda and their perseverance in what can sometimes seem thankless work.

“You’re not going to fix things all the time,” says Bill, “but you have to show up all the time. And Citizens Union has been showing up for over 100 years.”

Would you like to help interview and evaluate candidates in local elections for this fall’s General Election? The Local Candidates Committee is open to all current Citizens Union members at the $30 level or higher. To apply contact [email protected].


No Summer Break for Good Government

The lazy, hazy days don’t slow us down at Citizens Union! With candidate evaluations full steam ahead and a full house of summer interns conducting policy research and investigating stories for Gotham Gazette, Citizens Union’s commitment to making democracy work for all New Yorkers is a year round pursuit. Join us as a member today! Already a member? Make an additional gift to Citizens Union and support candidate evaluation and publication of our Voters Directory. Or support Citizens Union Foundation (our research arm) with a tax deductible gift to underwrite our research and education.

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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