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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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From Dick Dadey, Executive Director

Just when the advent of spring was producing hope that change in Albany was possible, the wheels come off the state senate and our state government goes from being dysfunctional to not functioning. Those of us at Citizens Union are just as dismayed and aghast at watching the daily chaos unfold in our state’s capital. Many issues in need of attention may go wanting because of the utter gridlock that has paralyzed our state government, and that is a major concern.

Much of this recent mess in Albany could have been avoided had our state enacted strong ethics enforcement, effective campaign finance reform and ended partisan gerrymandering all of which are key issues on Citizens Union’s state reform agenda.

Prior to the sudden collapse of our state senate, much meaningful activity had taken place on our reform issues as you can see from reading this new edition of the Reformer. If the new coalition government holds and is serious about being reform minded, it could start by passing bills that would accomplish the aforementioned issues. If it doesn’t hold, whoever gains control should still enact the reforms to prevent a repeat of the disaster we have come to abhor.

Improving mayoral control has been a recent and large focus of Citizens Union’s and will be until legislation is passed. Though needed by the end of the month, the confusion in Albany makes possible the real chance that the law could expire.

So read on about what has kept Citizens Union busy of late. And if your membership is lapsed, please take a moment now to renew.


City Updates

CU Releases Supportive Position on Mayoral Control of Schools

Citizens Union released its report  Improving Mayoral Control: Strengthening Accountability, Transparency and Parental Participation in Public Education  , which contained a series of recommendations to improve the current governance structure of the New York City school district. The  press release  summarized the recommendations, which include removing the chancellor as the chair of the Panel on Educational Policy (PEP), reducing the size of the PEP to eleven members, and requiring a ninety-day notice period for removal of PEP members. The report also recommends that the Independent Budget Office (IBO) and city comptroller be authorized to report on student performance and budgetary information, as well as recommends that the role of the Community Education Councils be strengthened through uniform training provided by the borough presidents and the creation of a Uniform Parental Engagement Procedure whereby parents can weigh in on education decisions affecting the districts.

CU Advocates for Greater Transparency of City Documents

Citizens Union testified before the Council Governmental Operations Committee in support of Int. No. 952, which would require the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), or a successor agency, to publish the City Record online, available free of charge and update it at least daily. The City Record, currently available only through paid subscription, provides a single source for government notices and actions, such as public hearings, proposed agency rule changes, court notices, procurement actions and contract awards. In its  testimony , Citizens Union praised the Council and in particular Councilmember Gail Brewer for their efforts at suggesting ways to make the City Record similar to other government publications, such as the New York State Register, available online and free of charge because it would move the City in line with other governments publications and take a significant step towards producing greater transparency in government operations. CU reiterated its prior position that the City Record should be published online and that the Department of Records and Information Services (Records) should become a “one-stop shop” of City government publications and information. CU urged the Council to promptly pass this legislation.

State Update

Citizens Union Recommends Sweeping Election Reform

Citizens Union Foundation released the  executive summary  of its forthcoming report and  detailed recommendations  that urge an end to industrial-age patronage and a fresh start with information-age accountability in the administration of elections in New York State.

The executive summary presents the major findings from the report, supporting CUF’s recommendations to overhaul election administration in the state. Among the findings were that New York is only one of two states in the country that has an even-numbered bipartisan board of elections at the state level and provides in its state constitution a role for political parties in the appointment of election officials. CUF found that New York’s unique structure for election administration impedes meaningful progress to improve public access to information and increase voter participation through the implementation of new technology. The executive summary also details the many problems voters encounter at the poll site as well as the lack of accountability, partisan gridlock, poor training of poll workers, lack of voter education, lack of standardized processes, and lax enforcement of the state’s campaign finance laws by the boards of election.

The detailed recommendations outline significant changes to the way in which elections are run and votes are cast in New York State through the creation of a new nonpartisan system that would end the two-party management of elections. After amending the constitution to remove the two-party requirements, we recommend the creation of a chief election officer and new nine member state election board to replace the current board of elections model. At the local level, the county executive or in the case of New York City, the mayor, would appoint a chief local election officer who would work with an appointed board of canvassers. The recommendations also detail several ways that operations could be improved absent constitutional changes, such as providing for a fifth nonpartisan commissioner and implementing merit-based hiring of certain poll workers. CU also put forward a number of proposals to increase voter turnout and enfranchise a larger number of voters, such as implementing Election Day voter registration and early voting.

Process for Filling Lieutenant Governor Vacancies Proposed by CU

New York State currently does not have an adequate process for filling a vacancy in the position of lieutenant governor. One reason the position is important is because the lieutenant governor can place a tie-breaking vote in a case of legislative deadlock, made all the more urgent and pressing given the recent chaos in Albany. In light of the current lack of full representation in the State Capitol due to the lieutenant governor vacancy when Governor Paterson assumed his current role, Citizens Union conducted extensive research of the procedure for filling vacancies in other states and at the federal level. Based on this research, Citizens Union released an  issue brief and position statement  recommending that the Governor should be given the power to appoint a lieutenant governor to fill the remainder of the unexpired term who would be subject to confirmation by a majority vote of the Senate and the Assembly voting separately. This model is currently used by the U.S. Congress for confirming appointments for vice president as nominated by the president. CU’s recommendation would ensure that the Governor nominates a candidate of his or her choosing and each house of the State Legislature plays an equal role in the confirmation process and that no one house by virtue of its size has more influence in the decision than the other. Worth noting on this issue is Gotham Gazette’s – a publication of Citizens Union Foundation – recent article “Where Is New York’s Lieutenant Governor,” which discussed the process for filling vacancies in New York and the associated political hurdles.


Ethics Reform Proposals Abound in Albany

The New York State Senate recently held hearings throughout the state on several reform bills , Governor Paterson recently announced his own ethics proposal, and the New York State Assembly held a hearing on ethics reform on June 9, 2009. Citizens Union testified before the Senate Ethics Committee in support of reforms to the state’s antiquated ethics laws. The testimony outlined the similarities between the Senate and Citizens Union’s proposal, drafted in conjunction with its good government colleagues, to create a Commission on Governmental Ethics which would have independent oversight of ethics for both the legislative and executive branches, as well as have jurisdiction over campaign finance and lobbying. The Senate’s hearing also involved consideration of bills to increase disclosure for public officials; implement “pay to play” limits and require disclosure of legislator-lobbyist relationships; clarify the personal use of campaign funds; and require disposal of excess campaign funds.


Campaign Finance Reform Still Stuck

Citizens Union remains concerned about the role money, specifically campaign contributions, plays in state politics and how it influences public policy decisions, , which is why campaign finance reform continues to be a substantial and much-needed priority on our state public policy agenda. Seizing on momentum at the state level to reforms the state’s campaign finance laws, last amended in 1975, Citizens Union  testified  before the Senate Committee on Elections on several proposals for public financing systems for elections in New York State. Our testimony supported the implementation of a public matching system, similar to the system in New York City, rather than a full or hybrid public financing system. CU’s testimony also strongly recommended that before a public matching funds program is implemented, there must be drastically lower contribution limits, strengthened enforcement and oversight, restrictions of, if not a ban on, soft money, and greater disclosure of contributions and expenses.


CU testifies on Commission on Judicial Nomination

Citizens Union  testified  before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary urging the State Legislature not to alter the current structure of the Commission on Judicial Nomination (Commission) in responding to concerns about the lack of diversity in its recent slate of recommendations for appointments to the Chief Judge position on the Court of Appeals. It also expressed its disappointment over the slate of candidates that were nominated by the Commission for the position of Chief Judge, while noting that the Commission’s overall track record demonstrates that the Commission has increased the Court’s diversity. In order to create a more diverse pool of applicants and ultimately a more diverse slate of candidates, Citizens Union recommended that the Commission be empowered to amend its rules to require it to contact women and minority bar associations throughout the State to notify them of Court vacancies and to change its rules to require consideration of diversity in its evaluation of candidates.


Election Update

2009 City Elections Taking Shape

New York City this year will hold municipal elections for Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Borough Presidents and City Council representatives. The races for some of these offices are already picking up speed, and it will be a busy year for Citizens Union, as it evaluates these candidates this summer and fall. Petitions from candidates must be filed by mid July, and while the season for gathering petitions only begins next week, many candidates are already accumulating endorsements for their candidacy.

Citizens Union will publish its annual Voters Directory in late August and October, and we encourage you to visit our website during the campaign season to view candidate questionnaires, when the directories are published. If you are interested in joining the Citizens Union Local Candidates Committee and helping CU to evaluate some of the many candidates running for office this year, please contact Andrea Senteno at [email protected] or 212.227.0342 x22.


Bronx Special Elections Held

There have been a string of vacancies in the Bronx, which began when former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion left his post to take a position in the Obama administration., Former Assemblymember Ruben Diaz Jr., who represented Assembly District 85, was elected on April 21st,as the new Bronx Borough President. To fill Diaz’s vacancy, Bronx residents then voted on June 3rd to elect Marcos Crespo as the new District 85 Assemblymember. In addition, former Assemblymember Aurelia Greene, of District 77, resigned from the Assembly to take a position as the Deputy Bronx Borough President. Bronx voters elected Vanessa Gibson, a former Greene staffer, to replace her in the Assembly.


Gotham Gazette Highlights

Support Gotham Gazette!

Gotham Gazette needs your help to provide New York’s most comprehensive, balanced local campaign coverage. We must raise $20,000 by July 4 so we can publish our award winning independent reporting on NYC politics and policy. Please make a tax-deductible contribution today. All who donate will automatically be entered in a drawing to win a pair of tickets to a top Broadway show!

The Budge Maze

In May Gotham Gazette’s Budget Maze was honored with a Knight News Game Award Honorable Mention at this year’s Games for Change Expo. This award was presented as their “second place” award. The top prize went to a multi-player game with a $750,000 budget while our game cost $50,000. Games for Change, the “Sundance” of social responsible game makers, is the largest festival and conference of its kind, bringing together leaders from the private sector, education, journalism and non-profits. We are very proud to be runners up.

Gotham Gazette’s Budget Maze challenges players to make their way through the maze that is the New York City budget.

What About the Issues?

With the State Senate mired in tragedy, soap opera and farce, reforms, budgets and more hang in the balance. We report from Albany and City Hall on the policies at stake.

Stonewall Revisited

Four decades after gay and lesbian people stood their ground outside a Village bar, Andy Humm surveys New York’s role in gay life and the movement for equal rights.

Toxic Town

New York City may be known for its world renowned-parks and unfiltered drinking water, but the five boroughs are also home to some of the state’s most polluted waterways and wastelands.


Breakfast Briefs

New York City Councilmember David Yassky was the guest at Citizens Union’s Breakfast Brief on May 6. Yassky, who is running for city comptroller, is Chair of the city council’s Small Business Committee and authored the Film Industry Job Creation Act. He spoke about job creation, economic growth, and using zoning and tax incentives to develop new industrial sectors in New York City such as biotechnology. He also proposed that the city budget be written like the federal budget allowing each Council committee to review its own portion. During a question and answer session Yassky called the rezoning of Greenpoint and Williamsburg in his district a success, with the exception of the city’s failure to build promised parks. On June 17th, Councilmember Bill de Blasio gave the last Breakfast Brief of our first series. De Blasio is a candidate for public advocate, a member of the city council representing Park Slope and Kensington, and chair of the council’s General Welfare Committee where he worked to reform the Administration for Children’s Services in the wake of the death of Nixmary Brown in 2006. De Blasio focused his talk on what he sees as the breakdown of the Democratic process in New York City, emphasizing that ordinary New Yorkers don’t have access to their city government and should be provided more pathways to participate in government decision making. He specifically cited the examples of the term limits extension for the mayor and city council, and the frustration of parents who don’t feel they have a voice in decisions that affect their schools.The Breakfast Brief series was co-sponsored by NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service.


Civic Conversation — Mayoral Control of City Schools: What Has Worked, What Hasn’t, and What’s Next?

The law establishing mayoral control of the New York City school system will expire at the end of June and leaders in city and state government have been engaged in a debate of the topic and recommendations for new legislation. The Citizens Union Board and Municipal Affairs Committee reviewed this issue of city wide importance and just released a report and recommendations.

In early May, as the Board and MAC were still deliberating on the issue, Citizens Union Foundation hosted a forum with the Baruch College School of Public Affairs to inform the public and bring together parents, educators and other concerned New Yorkers to discuss the successes and failures of the current system.. The panelists for this well attended Civic Conversation included:

Ana Maria Archila
Co-Executive Director, Make the Road NY

Reverend David Brawley
Pastor, St. Paul Community Baptist Church

Joel I. Klein
Chancellor, New York City Department of Education

Monica Major
President, Community Education Council District 11

Michael Mulgrew
Chief Operating Officer, United Federation of Teachers

Professor Joseph Viteritti
Former Executive Director, Commission on School Governance

Gotham Gazette has provided extensive coverage of this issue, including an article on this forum, commentaries by Assemblymember Alan Maisel, Councilmember Robert Jackson, and others, and an informative run down of recent reports and proposals for reforms to mayoral control


Spring for Reform — Fundraising Reception a Success

On May 13th, Citizens Union launched a new social and fundraising reception: Spring for Reform. That evening James Capalino presented Robert Hammond and Joshua David with Citizens Union’s inaugural Community Leadership Award for their visionary and creative leadership in helping to save the Highline and develop it into a new elevated park on Manhattan’s far west side. In addition, New York Times columnist, Clyde Haberman, spoke about good government in New York City.


“So much of what makes New York City great, and what can make New York City greater, involves government on one level or another. This has inspired me to get involved with Citizens Union to be able to have the opportunity to work with other communities who share the issues that I have experienced in Brooklyn. At Citizens Union I have had the opportunity to work with some really inspiring, thoughtful, and informed people to try to bring more transparency and democracy to local government.”
— Nancy Bowe, Event Co-Chair


     “I don’t think New York has ever seen so successful an effort [the planning of the High Line]… to integrate so many people of different social perspectives, political perspectives… in a planning process to preserve so unique a part of our city’s history.”
— James Capalino
“Citizens Union has done so much to make our government attentive and responsive to all New Yorkers and in doing that CU has played an essential role in the High Line.”
— Joshua David, Co-founder of The High Line
“CU… is more vital than ever in the life of this city…The process counts, and that’s what Citizens Union has to stand for.”
— Clyde Haberman, New York Times Columnist


Many thanks to Nancy Bowe and Edward Swenson, Co-Chairs of Spring for Reform, and the Spring for Reform Host Committee who made this such a fine evening and a wonderful tribute to community leadership in New York City. There is a slide show of photos from the event that can be viewed online.

Gotham Reformers Hold Breakfasts with Harold Levy and Richard Ravitch

The Gotham Reformers–Citizens Union’s arm of young professionals–has kicked off a series of roundtable discussions with some of the city’s most influential policy makers. These off-the-record conversations are candid dialogues between the speaker and Gotham Reformers–a chance to ask questions about the back stories of timely issues confronting New York.

About fifteen Gotham Reformers in April spoke with former schools chancellor (and Citizens Union board member) Harold Levy on educational policy, including the challenges facing various stakeholders in the debate over mayoral control of schools in New York. And last week, Gotham Reformers spoke with Richard Ravitch about the work of his recent commission, appointed by Gov. David Patterson, which identified ways of permanently solving the chronic budget shortfalls of the MTA.. More Gotham Reformer discussions will be scheduled in the fall on timely civic issues. If you are under 40 and are looking to get more involved in Citizens Union, become a Gotham Reformer and get on the list for these exciting, eye-opening discussions.


Who is Citizens Union?

David Mitchell
Citizens Union Foundation, Board Member

Contrary to rumor David Mitchell was not recruited to join Citizens Union by Seth Low. A relative newcomer, he joined in 1956 and was first elected to the board of directors in 1960. David served as treasurer for forty-two years and has been active on many of our committees. He is currently a member of the Citizens Union Foundation Board of Directors.

David is an investment banker and business leader. He is president of Mitchell and Associates; and has worked in the past with Loeb Rhodes, First Boston Corporation and S.G. Warburg and Company. David has served as an advisor to numerous leaders and organization including: the Whitehead Institute, FINCA, and the International Center for the Disabled.

“I am in awe of Citizens Union’s strength today under the able leadership of Dick Dadey and his team. New York is a neater, sweeter city and a greener, cleaner place thanks to the efforts of Citizens Union. I do worry that our membership is relatively small and urge all who care about good government to join and to help recruit a broad membership for this great organization.”

Join Citizens Union as a Member

This is a great time to be an active Citizens Union member. With the municipal elections this fall our members will be engaged in debates, candidate evaluation and much more. This is also an important time to be supporting Citizens Union because we rely on member support to be able to advance political reform in New York. Please take a moment to renew your membership or to join Citizens Union and play a part in this independent, nonpartisan, civic organization. You can do even more by telling your colleagues and friends about our work and encourage them to check us out and consider becoming members.

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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