|Engaging New Yorkers to Reform Government||Vol. 5, 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 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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You can’t pick up a newspaper or scan the news on the internet without reading about our out-of-control state government. Seeing that change in Albany is not only needed, but is coming soon, Citizens Union has stepped up its effort by singularly focusing on redistricting reform and ending the practice of gerrymandering in which legislators draw their own districts and essentially choose their voters before the voters choose them. News about our progress on that front is below along with other news about our work in reviewing and strengthening our city’s local constitution, the City Charter. And not to have you believe that all we do is work, Citizens Union held its second annual “Spring for Reform” fundraising event last week. The party not only raised needed dollars, but also raised the spirits of all who attended who were dispirited about the state of state government. Details and pics are below. Thanks for your support and interest in our work.
Redistricting reform is the centerpiece of Citizens Union’s effort to reform our state government and bring needed change to Albany. Our focused efforts have resulted in redistricting reform legislation – for the first time in New York history – being passed out of a legislative committee. Yesterday, the Senate Elections Committee voted to approve the legislation with 4 affirmative votes and 2 without recommendation. Democratic Senators Addabbo, Foley and Serrano voted to approve the legislation, as well as Republican Senator Tom Libous – the first time a Republican senator has voted to approve legislation creating an independent redistricting commission. Other redistricting legislation has also been introduced by Senator Dilan, who voted without recommendation at the Senate Elections Committee hearing. While Senator Dilan’s legislation is on the surface marginally better than the current system, it continues the self-dealing process of legislators drawing their own district lines. This activity follows a May 4th vote of the Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee at which Citizens Union made a presentation on redistricting reform . Presentations were also made by former Mayor Ed Koch and Henry Stern of NY Civic, and the committee voted to approve the redistricting reform legislation with a vote of 4-1, with 3 additional votes without recommendation. Citizens Union worked diligently over the past few months with Assemblymember Michael Gianaris and State Senator David Valesky in fashioning a bill that was the same in both houses.
Support for redistricting reform is growing. Citizens Union released a list of 107 legislators identified as supporters of the creation of an independent redistricting commission. The list was compiled by identifying all those legislators who co-sponsored various pieces of legislation establishing independent redistricting commissions over the past several years and those who had expressed their support on the CU’s candidate questionnaires in 2004, 2006, or 2008. We also are working with Ed Koch and his newly formed group, NY Uprising, to bring reform to Albany and are pleased that his efforts, along with our involvement, resulted in each of the four major candidates for governor pledging to veto any district lines drawn by the legislature – an important part of Citizens Union’s strategy since 2005 to force the legislature into ending partisan gerrymandering.
Also related to redistricting, Citizens Union announced in a news release its support for legislation to change where prisoners are counted in the redistricting process, introduced by Senator Schneiderman and Assemblymember Jeffries. Prisoners are currently counted in the upstate prisons where they are housed even though they can not vote in the elections, which thereby falsely inflates and overcounts the number of “voters” in upstate districts. Citizens Union has joined the Coalition to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering, which has developed a website, http://www.correctthecount.org
Citizens Union along with the Brennan Center, Common Cause/NY, League of Women Voters NYS, NYPIRG, and the Women’s City Club organized a spring time reform campaign calling on legislators to adopt a ” Pledge for Change ” circulated by the good government groups. The pledge asks legislators to state their support on any of a number of reform issues that need to be addressed this spring before the legislature ends its session. These issues include redistricting, campaign finance and ethics reform. The groups were joined by State Senator Krueger, and Assembly members Kavanagh, Kellner, Ortiz and Rosenthal at a press conference to urge state legislators to sign on to the pledge. Currently sixty legislators statewide have signed the pledge. The redistricting reform campaign and the Pledge for Change are but two of the activities in which Citizens Union is involved in the effort to bring change to Albany. Citizens Union participated in an event called “Albany on the Record” which is highlighted in our events section below.
Citizens Union joined Senator Liz Krueger and other members of the Democratic Conference in their announcement of a package of budget reform proposals to reform Albany’s budget process, including implementation of GAAP accounting, moving the fiscal year start date, and implementing performance measurement in the budget process. Citizens Union had presented its budget reform recommendations to the Senate Select Committee on Budget and Tax Reform last year, which culminated in the release of a committee staff report, and ultimately, the reform legislation. Several of CU’s policy recommendations are now enshrined in these pieces of legislation.
Citizens Union is actively working with Senator Jose Serrano and Assemblymember Sandy Galef to bring fairness and transparency to the discretionary member item process. At a news conference Citizens Union attended, along with NYPIRG and the League of Women Voters/N.Y.S., the legislators announced the introduction of member item reform legislation in both houses that will reform the way these discretionary funds are distributed as well as increasing transparency and accountability. Citizens Union played a crucial role in drafting the legislation, which will create a pre-clearance process for organizations seeking funding and require for regular reporting regarding the use of funds. Through outreach by Citizens Union and our colleagues to legislators, the bill currently has the support of 46 members of the Assembly and 16 Senators.
Recently named by the Mayor as resource for the City Charter Revision Commission, Citizens Union is in the midst of conducting a comprehensive review of the City Charter. As a designated resource, Citizens Union has convened a Task Force of distinguished New Yorkers to make recommendations regarding changes to the City Charter. Citizens Union’s Municipal Affairs Committee is also contributing to our internal review of the Charter, exploring potential changes across a broad array of areas including land use, laws subject to mandatory referendum, ethics and lobbying, and the role of particular city agencies. Staff has attended Commission hearings and meeting with elected officials and other stakeholders to compile ideas and opinions on potential changes for the charter. Citizens Union anticipates releasing its recommendations on how to improve the structure and function of city government at the end of June.
Citizens Union continues to push for the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to acquire the ability to prosecute substantiated cases of policed misconduct. In March, Citizens Union joined with Public Advocate de Blasio, Council members, the ACLU and other stakeholders at a press conference calling for the advancement of a de Blasio/Garodnick bill giving the CCRB this authority. Citizens Union has also testified at budget hearings before the City Council’s Public Safety Committee calling for funding that would enable the CCRB to adequately prosecute substantiated cases of police misconduct. Through extensive outreach to Council member offices, 25 members have signed on to the bill – just one short of a majority. Citizens Union is also considering the role of the CCRB as part of its review of the City Charter.
Earlier this month, the City Council announced a series of proposals that will further enhance transparency and increase restrictions and regulation on the allocation of member items. Member items are discretionary funds used by councilmembers to fund community organizations within their districts. Citizens Union has long campaigned for greater equity and transparency with regard to member items at both the state and city level, and played a role in making the recent changes more centered on Council members in addition to the organizations receiving money. Changes to the member item process include the future creation of a searchable database to make known which groups have applied for and/or received member items, more rigorous vetting of organizations seeking money including limitations on money available to new organizations and references and disclosure of previous donors for all organizations, increased training for fund recipients, and the prohibition of subleasing office space by Council members to organizations in response to the scandal surrounding Council member Seabrook.
With Mayor Bloomberg proposing deep cuts in the Department of Education and some other city agencies, Gotham Gazette has been covering the proposals — and the effect they would have on New Yorkers. Courtney Gross looked at the mayor’s plan — and his attacks on Albany — in Budget Blame Game, while David King reported on the impasse in Albany that’s contributing to the city’s budget mess. Other articles have looked at proposed cuts to people with HIV/AIDS; state parks – including some in the city; after-school programs; the fight against elder abuse; and transit for disabled. New Yorkers turn to Gotham Gazette for in-depth reporting on and analysis of the budget and its impact in the weeks to come.
Gotham Gazette is also pleased to announce that it will be receiving an award from the New York Press Club for “Best Web Exclusive Content” for its series on the Bloomberg Record during last fall’s election.
Recent highlights are below.
An obscure city agency gives businesses tens of millions in tax breaks every year. Who gets the money, and what do New Yorkers get in return?
Four years after approving a solid waste plan, the city hasn’t come close to meeting its recycling goals, the cost of dealing with New York’s trash continues to climb, and efforts to have all parts of the city share the garbage burden remain mired in lawsuits.
With the state’s bridges and highways falling deeper into disrepair after years of neglect, the budget crunch threatens to bring plans to fix them to a screeching halt. And for a look at some of the city’s decaying streets, see our slide show, Rough Roads.
A Harlem middle school stands on the frontlines of using technology to engage students. With the city hoping to expand this program to 81 schools, Gotham Gazette profiled Global Tech.
Upstate prisons with full staffs but a dwindling number of inmates offer a tempting target for budget cutters. For years, political muscle has kept the jails open. Will the fiscal crunch change that?
Citizens Union on May 5th, along with its good government colleagues and organizations from across the state, participated in an event organized by Reinvent Albany, called “Albany On-The-Record.” The event was created to allow the public to hear from the state’s statewide officials and legislative leaders regarding their positions on government reform and to stimulate debate over how best to fix Albany. The event also sought to and get public officials to commit to taking tangible steps this legislative session to address problems in state government. Six of the seven elected leaders invited participated in the event: Governor David Paterson, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb. You can watch video of the event at www.albanyontherecord.org.
|Over 140 people honored Brooklyn Flea creators Jonathan Butler and Eric Demby (pictured at left) at our spring event on May 12th, raising $60,000 for Citizens Union’s political reform efforts along the way. Thanks go to Citizens Union board members Ed Swenson and Nancy Bowe (pictured below) who chaired the second iteration of this event which proved to be another fun success.||The buzz of networking prevailed as longtime supporters joined many new faces to enjoy New York City views, an inspiring performance by NYC’s youth poet laureate Zora Howard and incisive remarks about public space and community by The Municipal Art Society President Vin Cipolla. There’s still time to add your support to the mix! (Just use “other” to designate your gift amount, and thank you!)|
In 2001, nearly three quarters of the City Council’s 51 seats turned over due to new term limits instituted by voters. It was this unprecedented historical event that inspired Marc Norman to join Citizens Union to serve on the Local Candidates Committee which evaluates and recommends aspiring officeholders in city and state elections.
“It was great!” said Norman. “It was for me a way to actually interact with elected officials at an historic time for the city.”
Norman subsequently served on the Municipal Affairs Committee and joined the Citizens Union Foundation Board in 2005.
“[CU] took me in and didn’t let me go,” said Norman.
Norman holds a Masters degree in urban planning from UCLA and is currently a Vice President in Deutsche Bank’s Community Development Finance Group where he provides loans and investments for low-income communities and social enterprises, supporting initiatives in affordable housing and economic development.
“CU is important because it focuses on the health of the city and the integrity of its politicians,” said Norman. “It’s one of the few organizations that have not focused just on a particular issue but the larger issue of good government. Its broad focus – from voters’ guides, to charter reform, to reforming Albany – makes it a dynamic organization.”
If not, add your voice and support to our efforts to ReShape New York. Make a membership contribution of $30 or more and help us challenge the status quo. Your dollars make our work possible. Don’t delay! Become a Citizens Union member today.
To read recent coverage of our work visit the In the News section of our website.
Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation