|Engaging New Yorkers to Reform Government||Vol. 6, Issue 2|
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 state budget is done. Now the attention of our state government turns to a host of issues including ethics and redistricting reform. Given the work of Citizen Union and the support members and supporters like you have helped provide, these two issues are well positioned for major advances over the next few months, but still require an intensive public education and lobbying effort.
One example of how our work influences the discussion of these issues, is our Legislative Turnover Report in which we showed how state legislative departures due to public corruption over the past six years had increased threefold over the previous six years. This finding as well as others have helped keep the heat on the Legislature and the Governor to reach a final agreement on ethics, which we expect shortly.
To learn about these issues and our work over the past few months, please take the time to read below. Please consider renewing your membership in CU or making a special gift to assist us in the support of these needed efforts. Thanks.
Citizens Union has formally launched its nonpartisan redistricting reform campaign, ReShapeNY. The launch is a culmination of several months’ work forming a coalition of 30 groups across the state including good government groups, issue-based advocacy organizations, unions, and the business community. The coalition is led by nine co-chairs, including CU’s own Bob Abrams, John Avlon, Grace Lyu-Volckhausen, and Lillian Rodríguez López. Complementing this group is former Mayor Ed Koch, Republican state comptroller nominee Harry Wilson, former Republican State Senator Frank Padavan, President of SUNY at Old Westbury Dr. Calvin Butts, and Associate Vice President at SUNY New Paltz Gerald Benjamin. In addition to the support from these individuals and organizations, there is overwhelming support in the legislature for an independent redistricting commission. Even before the formation of ReShapeNY, Citizens Union was lobbying legislators and engaging in public education to demonstrate the need for passing a redistricting reform bill. Under the banner of ReShapeNY, Citizens Union and its coalition partners will continue this important work. For more information, see reshapeny.org.
Another important development in redistricting reform is Governor Cuomo’s introduction of his own redistricting reform bill. On a parallel track, Citizens Union worked with good government groups and the Voting Rights Consortium consisting of minority group advocacy organizations to better align our mutual interests on redistricting reform. Prior to the release of the Cuomo bill, Citizens Union played an integral role in shaping the language of the bill, presenting consensus positions reached in meetings with the consortium. The governor’s bill now has 78 co-sponsors in the Assembly (and counting!) and has become the foundation for any redistricting reform the legislature may adopt. Cuomo’s bill, however, has run into resistance in the State Senate, where Majority Leader Dean Skelos has backtracked on his public campaign pledge to reform redistricting. In addition to introducing the Cuomo bill into the Rules Committee, which means that there is no legislator sponsoring the bill and other legislators are not able to sign on as co-sponsors, Skelos and the Senate have passed another redistricting bill that masquerades as redistricting reform. Citizens Union and its good government colleagues opposed the legislation, because it amends the constitution and would not go into effect until 2022, long after the current redistricting process is over.
Citizens Union also recently released a statement decrying the extension of gerrymandering in the state budget . The Public Protection and General Government budget bill included an extension of the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (also known as LATFOR), which is the body charged with drawing district lines. Since legislators sit on LATFOR, extending it in the budget continues the current system where legislators can draw their own lines. In its statement, Citizens Union called on the legislature to pass redistricting reform with an independent commission this session to drawn lines for the 2012 elections.
In helping to keep the drum beating on the need for ethics reform, Citizens Union on February 14th released its second report on turnover in the New York State legislature , finding that a crime wave of public corruption is accelerating as the number of legislators who left in the past six years because of ethical and criminal misconduct has tripled over that of the previous six years. The report also details other reasons why legislators have left office, noting that legislators are more likely to leave their seats to run for another office rather than lose at the polls. At a press conference in Albany, Citizens Union and its colleagues, the Brennan Center, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and NYPIRG, called for the immediate passage of ethics legislation that has independent oversight and strong enforcement of ethics laws.
Citizens Union also released its position on pension forfeiture , an issue which has been in the news as part of the ethics negotiations between the State Legislature and Governor. Citizens Union’s position supports judicial discretion in the sentencing process to determine whether forfeiture of taxpayer-funded pensions should occur for elected officials, judges, and state agency heads who commit crimes related to their public service. Judges would consider a set of factors and a list of specified crimes in determining whether full or partial forfeiture is an appropriate penalty. Citizens Union supports applying this form of forfeiture to both current and prospective public officials, and will seek statutory and constitutional changes.
CU continues to advance our 50 recommendations to the 2010 City Charter Revision Commission in addition to proposals related to our policy agenda by working to introduce legislation or achieving needed reforms administratively. Some of the highlights of our work are provided below.
- Citizens Union successfully pressured the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to put the entire City Record online. (The City Record is a daily print newsletter containing information about City governmental issues including hearings and public notices related to, for example, bids for contracts and rulemaking by agencies.)
- We urged the City to examine its authority related to election administration which, following a meeting with City Council staff, led to the introduction of a bill to require the City Board of Elections (Board) to put sample ballots online and a commitment by the Mayor’s Election Modernization Task Force to work with the City Board in recruiting more poll workers and doing outreach to expand registration.
- Citizens Union is working with the Board’s executive staff to improve administrative procedures and transparency, and is seeing gains in this area. A recent example was our successful effort to include the majority of data requested in the Mayor’s Management Report (MMR) in the Board’s 2010 annual report in a timely manner, thereby enhancing performance-based assessment of the Board. Finally, CU is working with the Board to make its weekly meetings of commissioners more transparent through webcasting proceedings, posting meeting minutes online more promptly and making available electronically materials distributed at the meetings.
Following Citizens Union’s requests to revisit the City’s lobbying laws, the City Council and Mayor convened a commission to do so in February and March. Its first meeting was held on March 15th. Over the last two months, Citizens Union spoke with experienced lobbyists, political consultants and experts at the City’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB) to develop recommendations for improving the current laws. Citizens Union has also met with Commission staff and has an upcoming meeting with the City Clerk, whose Lobbying Bureau currently administers the law. The Commission held its first hearing on March 30th, at which Citizens Union testified, focusing on aligning state and local lobbying reporting. Citizens Union will testify at other upcoming hearings of the Commission related to different components of the City’s lobbying laws.
As a result of a ballot proposition that passed last November to require disclosure of independent expenditures (funds spent on items such as advertisements during a campaign that aren’t coordinated with a particular candidate but seek to influence an election), the Campaign Finance Board held a hearing on how it will implement the new law. Citizens Union had first recommended disclosure of independent expenditures in its report to the City Charter Revision Commission, ” Increasing Avenues for Participation in Governing and Elections in New York City .” In its testimony to the Campaign Finance Board, Citizens Union recommended that “sham issue ads” (which seek to influence voters but don’t use words such as “vote for” or “vote against”) be disclosed, and that disclaimers be placed on political advertisements so that voters know the funding sources of the ads. Testimony from all participants in the hearing is available on the Campaign Finance Board website.
Gotham Gazette has just made it easier to share tips on Councilpedia, the new section of the Gotham Gazette site designed to help New Yorkers follow links that may exist between their elected officials and the people who fund their campaigns. Now, a tutorial guides you through the few easy steps you need to take to register and tell your fellow New Yorkers what you know about money and politics. We hope you will take advantage of this unique feature.
Funded partly by a grant from the Knight Foundation, Councilpedia brings together in one place an unrivaled amount of information on the members of the New York City Council, the public advocate and the comptroller. It also allows readers to search by contributions from specific industries or interest groups, contributors that are doing business with the city, and much more.
Also recently in Gotham Gazette:
As costs of garbage disposal and energy skyrocket, Mayor Bloomberg is considering building a plant to turn trash into fuel. Can he pull it off? A Gotham Gazette exclusive by City Hall editor Courtney Gross.
The governor’s administration has no stauncher ally than The Post, which lauds him, slams his critics and gets access others in the media only dream about. State government editor David King’s examination of this relationship sparked interest and debate in the blogosphere and on the airwaves.
Gotham Gazette was the first publication in the city to report on the Department of Education’s plan to dramatically roll back its proposal to build new classrooms in the city. A map provides more information on where the cuts are.
With two more state legislators under indictment, Rachael Fauss reported on how extremely difficult it is to oust an incumbent state senator or assembly member in New York City.
As part of Gotham Gazette’s continuing coverage of proposed city and state budget cuts, Alshawny Rushing focused on the possible closing of 105 senior centers in the city and the older New Yorkers worried about what it would mean to lose their “second home.”
Join Citizens Union on May 25th from 6-8:30pm at Manhattan Penthouse to celebrate the work of Lucy Cabrera, Liz Neumark and Karen Washington, three native New Yorkers who share a passion for food and community. WNYC’s Brian Lehrer will be the evening’s featured speaker. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy wonderful city views while mingling with other civic-minded New Yorkers as, together, we create a more vibrant, sustainable New York.
For Citizens Union Board member Hector Soto, joining CU was a natural extension of a lifetime of being an activist and community organizer. “Community organizing is a way of engaging communities civically so that they can play a greater role in determining what will happen in their neighborhoods,” said Hector. “Part of that is being engaged electorally, and holding elected officials accountable.”
A nearly 40-year resident of the Bronx, Hector is the Director of the Center of Neighborhood Leadership, a program that finds and trains community organizers for work on housing and immigration issues. He is also an attorney and advocate on issues of public safety and police accountability and teaches courses on those subjects at various CUNY schools. He joined CU’s Municipal Affairs Committee in 2008 and helped draft CU’s position on reform of the Civilian Complaint Review Board. He was elected to the CU Board in 2010.
In Citizens Union, Hector found a place where he could exchange views with a diverse swath of fellow New Yorkers representing a range of political, economic, professional, and ethnic backgrounds. “CU is one of the few places where you can have those kind of safe discussions about issues and find common ground and at least understand that there are differences,” he said. “You can understand that just because someone disagrees with you, it’s not that that person dislikes you, but that there are legitimate arguments and concerns that need to be addressed.”
Hector grew up in the Astoria Houses in Queens. He moved to the Bronx – where he raised his two children and still lives with his wife – in the mid-1970s, “when people said ‘the Bronx is burning’.” As a Puerto Rican-American who cares about community, he was drawn there to be of service. After almost 40 years of engagement, he’s seen a lot of difference. “I’m very proud of the Bronx, its people and the potential that its people have for continuing to make the Bronx a more livable and hospitable place,” he says. “I believe the Bronx is changing and will continue to change for the better.”
You care about your community – from the street where you live to your city and state. You crave state and local government that values citizens and functions effectively and efficiently. Citizens Union helps realize that vision. Through its research, media advocacy and work with city and state partners, Citizens Union moves New York closer to these goals every day. We also keep you informed of city and state policy changes that affect you and describe why they matter. Through ReShapeNY, we’ll urge you to take specific actions to assure your voice is heard. But we can’t do it without you. Renew your membership today, join as a new member or make an additional contribution to support our work. Be part of the change you seek.
To read recent coverage of our work visit the In the News section of our website.