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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, 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

As we send you this March edition of The Reformer, Citizens Union is preparing a briefing on special elections and the NYS legislature. With the special elections for three more state legislative seats being held on Tuesday, we are concerned about the number of representatives who are first elected through these contests. I encourage you to visit our website next week to learn more about this original research. This briefing is part of our larger efforts to improve the voting process, foster more competitive elections, and address systemic barriers to voter participation, like the lack of choice in state legislative elections and the often accepted inevitability of incumbents winning re-election.

This month is also one of poignant transition for us as we bid adieu to long time Editor of Gotham Gazette, Jonathan Mandell, who leaves us to pursue another dream job of writing and producing for CNN.com. Though Jonathan’s tremendous contribution and indelible impact will continue long after he leaves us, he will be missed. More details about this change appear below in the Gotham Gazette Highlights section.

I hope to see you at one of our upcoming events. The Citizens Union Membership and Program Committee has been helping to plan a series of Civic Conversations. See below for April events and look for more in the coming months.

CITY UPDATES

Second Special Election for New York City Council Race in Brooklyn

Citizens Union issued a  statement  on the February special election results and residency requirements for City Council Candidates. CU expressed concern for the lack of clarity involving these residency requirements, specifically supporting the notion that the City Charter grant the Council the power to verify residency prior to the swearing in of City Council candidates even though state law surrounding this issue is muddled.

Two special elections were held to fill the seats of City Councilmembers Andrew Lanza, from Staten Island’s 51st District, and Yvette Clarke, from Brooklyn’s 40th District. Lanza was elected to the New York State Senate during the general elections in November 2006 and Clarke was elected to Congress. On February 20th, State Assemblymember Vincent Ignizio was elected to succeed Lanza in Staten Island and Dr. Mathieu Eugene won the crowded race in Brooklyn.

Swearing in ceremonies were to be held for both men two days after the election but were postponed due to issues raised over Dr. Eugene’s residence at the time of the election. New York State law does not require city council candidates running in a special election to live in the district during the campaign but the courts have established that residency must be achieved by the day the election is held. Two days after the election, the Daily News printed an article, calling into question when the newly elected council member’s had moved into his new home.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn consulted Attorney General Andrew Cuomo who reaffirmed the view that Dr. Eugene would have had to have been a resident on the day of the election. After Dr. Eugene refused to provide a copy of his lease and sign the oath of office, which would have affirmed his legal residence, the seat remained vacant leading to a second special election. Dr. Eugene, who would have been the first Haitian born member of the City Council, plans to run for the seat again in the do-over race, scheduled for April 24th. During our candidate evaluation process, Citizens Union issued a joint endorsement for Zenobia McNally and Wellington Sharpe.

Additionally, this election highlights a loophole in the campaign finance program that has allowed several candidates who do not live in the district during a campaign – and apparently had no intention of moving in to the district unless they won – to receive public matching funds under the program. The Campaign Finance Board should clarify that candidates must meet the legal requirements to represent the district for which they are running or forfeit eligibility under the program.

 

State Updates

Judicial Selection Case Moves to the U.S. Supreme Court

On February 20th, the Supreme Court of the United States granted a writ of certiorari in the Lopez Torres v. the New York State Board of Elections suit that challenged New York’s process for selecting Supreme Court justices. The lower courts found that the state’s judicial nominating conventions were unconstitutional for denying voters the ability to meaningfully participate in elections and candidates the opportunity to appear on the ballot. Citizens Union issued an amicus curie legal brief supporting the plaintiffs claim that the process was in fact unconstitutional. Granting of the cert. will most likely postpone legislative action to reform the process and leave the current process in place for 2007 Supreme Court elections. It also means that the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s troubled past, and allegations of the sale of judgeships, will receive national attention. To view Citizens Union’s position on the selection of Supreme Court justices click here.

 

Blair Horner moves to the Attorney General’s Office

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has appointed longtime Citizens Union good government ally and respected colleague, Blair Horner, to be his Special Advisor on Policy and Public Integrity. He will lead “Project Sunlight,” a comprehensive Internet accessible database for public information on elected officials, lobbyists, special interests, contracts and donors. For nearly 25 years Blair Horner has advocated for government reform, and other important issues, in Albany as Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. We thank him for all that he has done as an effective public watchdog and look forward to working with him in his new role.

 

Who is Citizens Union?

Luis Garden Acosta, Vice Chair of Citizens Union and Co-Chair of the Municipal Affairs Committee

 Luis Garden Acosta is a leader for human rights in the context of community building. In 1982, he founded El Puente in his home neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Under his leadership, El Puente has grown into a center for holistic learning and community development that promotes leadership for peace and justice through arts programs, education, scientific research, wellness and environmental action. Garden Acosta and his colleagues at El Puente led New York State’s most successful childhood immunization campaign; created the celebrated Latino Center for Art and Culture; built parks and open spaces as well as mapped one hundred Brownfield sites; became the first community organization to publish a peer-reviewed article in the American Journal of Public Health; and established El Puente Academy, a public high school focused on human rights.

Garden Acosta joined the Citizens Union Board in 2002 because of his commitment to integrating community building and political work.

“Only a union of citizens and neighbors can drive our democracy to focus on its first call, the greater good and primacy of all our communities.”

In addition to serving on the Citizens Union Board, Luis Garden Acosta has contributed his leadership to such diverse organizations as the National Science Foundation, the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, New Yorkers for Parks, The New York City Food Bank, the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform and the Young Lords Party. A longtime advocate for community health and the environment, he helped to found and led Community Alliance For the Environment, which has succeeded in halting plans to build a 55 story incinerator at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and is now working to close New York’s only and critically hazardous, radioactive and chemical waste storage plant, Radiac, located in the Southside of Williamsburg.

His many awards include the “Spirit of the City” from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Public Works Award and “Celebrating Success” from the Children’s Defense Fund. Along with his partner, Frances Lucerna, Luis Garden Acosta won the 1998 Heinz Award Winner for the Human Condition.

 

EVENTS

“Vote 2008: A Symposium on New York
Voting Machines and Election Reform”

Thursday April 12, 8 -10am
Jacob Burns Moot Court Room at Cardozo School of Law
55 5th Avenue at 12th Street

With 18,000 lost votes last year in Sarasota, Florida and the fiasco in Florida of the 2000 presidential election, momentum is building for voting that is verifiable, auditable and accessible. Citizens Union Foundation and others are co-sponsoring this symposium with People for the American Way.

Panelist include:

Hon. Rush Holt, Congressman (D-NJ) (invited)
Doug Kellner, Co-Chair, NY State Board of Elections
Esmerelda Simmons, Esq. Director, Center for Law and Social Justice, Medgar Evers College
Ion Sancho, Supervisor of Elections, Leon County, Florida

Click here to rsvp for this event or call 212-420-0440 ext. 21.

 

Reform Albany Day

Each spring, a coalition of government reform groups and interested New Yorkers go up to Albany to rally and press for reform, hear from guest speakers and meet in small groups with legislators. This year’s event will take place on Monday, April 23.

Join fellow activists, students, civic leaders and other reformers to advocate for:
• Reforming the way electoral campaigns are funded and conducted
• Changing the way legislative district lines are drawn
• Improving the transparency, accountability and rules of the legislature .

Governor Eliot Spitzer and others have been invited to address the group.

Click here to register and please specify that Citizens Union referred you. Or here for more information about the event and transportation.

 

“Grading NYC Public Schools:
Will the New Accountability Measures Help Our Kids?”

Thursday, April 26, 6-8 pm. tentative
Hunter School of Social Work
129 E 79th St at Lexington Avenue

The City of New York is reorganizing its management of education for the second time in the five years since the current Mayor took control of the education of New York’s 1.1 million public school students. In creating new operating structures, the City seeks to bring greater accountability to an educational system that has spent many of its resources in recent years on improving student performance.

With the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, more money is expected to come from the state to the city, but with it will come increased accountability for the city’s principals and teachers and stricter performance standards for students.

How will New Yorkers measure and know if more money, another schools reorganization, increased accountability, and stricter performance standards have improved the education of New York’s 1.1 million students?

This public forum will address the divisive issue of school reform, assess how well the city is doing in educating our students, and try to find common ground in what needs to be done to improve the education of our students.

Click here to rsvp for this event.

Gotham Gazette NEWS AND Highlights

This month Jonathan Mandell, Editor-in-Chief of Gotham Gazette, is leaving to join CNN.com. During his seven years with Gotham Gazette, Mandell shared his creative genius and expanded a fledgling website, adding new features and improving coverage to attract tens of thousands of more readers. Citizens Union thanks Jonathan Mandell for his leadership and considerable contributions to Gotham Gazette’s success.

He brought inexhaustible enthusiasm for issues affecting New York and for journalism, pushing Gotham Gazette to provide influential coverage of often-complicated issues. At the same time, he made sure stories stayed accessible and informative for ordinary New Yorkers, instructing writers to make sure even middle school students could understand the site’s coverage of issues from lulus to land use.

Under his direction, Gotham Gazette won many accolades, including the coveted general excellence award from the Online Journalism Association, attracted imitators from other cities, received widespread praise – and perhaps most importantly became a vital and influential source of information in his beloved home city. As he moves to Atlanta, we thank him for his innovative vision, deep commitment, and hard work. We wish him well.

Long time member of the CUF staff, Gail Robinson is taking the reins and we are confident that her leadership will build on Gotham Gazette’s strengths and bring new insight to covering New York City. Robinson has been a journalist for 30 years, with a focus on politics and policy issues. Since joining the Gotham Gazette staff in 2000, she has written and edited articles on education, environment and a wide range of subjects. Robinson developed and edits Gotham Gazette’s Measuring Up section on assessing city services.

 

Join Citizens Union

Because Citizens Union is working to make reform a reality, we want to recruit new members and add more voices to our call for good government. Please encourage your friends to join. Click here to forward this newsletter, and click here to join Citizens Union or renew your membership.

Citizens Union In the News

• March 9, 2007, “Eugene Could Run Again if Second Council Special Election Is Called,” The New York Sun
• March 6, 2007, “Union Stance on Council Support Called ‘Blackmail’,” The New York Sun
• February 22, 2007, “Cuomo Attempts to Update State Charities Web Site,” Times Ledger
• February 20, 2007, “Bumps on the Road to Stop ‘Pay to Play’,” Metro
• February 19, 2007, “‘No-Money Honey’ Quinn Nixes Lobby $$,” The New York Post
• February, 2007, “‘Developer Donations May Be Loophole in Reform Efforts,” City Hall
• February 15, 2007, “‘Tax Break for New York Renters? Mayor Says Maybe,” Associated Press
• February 7, 2007, “On Trip to Israel, City Council Members Take Rocket Fire,” The New York Sun

 

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