|Engaging New Yorkers to Reform Government||Vol. 6, Issue 3|
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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We’ve got one down and one to go in terms of our major issues being addressed in Albany this legislative session. With the expected passage this week of historic ethics reform legislation, redistricting reform is up next. Achieving something as dramatic and as needed as redistricting reform is still very much an uphill battle, but entirely doable. I say that because with state legislators increasingly realizing that Governor Cuomo is serious about his threat to veto new district lines drawn in the old partisan manner, we remain hopeful that a new approach to reapportionment will be found in the last few days of the legislative session. Details about our work on both of these major priorities for Citizens Union are below.
And of course, none of our work is possible without the support of folks like you, which is why we are so grateful to the 200 folks who showed up last month to our third annual Spring for Reform event. It turned out to be a rare sunny and enjoyable spring night in NYC. More on the evening is below.
Let’s hope that the next time we report to you, we have some other good news to share about our efforts at state reform.
Following the launch in March of ReShapeNY, a broad-based coalition of civic, labor, business and issue-advocacy groups united to reform redistricting, the coalition has engaged in a number of activities to advance reform of the process for redrawing state legislative and congressional district lines. We and our coalition members have conducted forums on the issue of redistricting reform throughout the state, with Common Cause and Citizens Union taking the lead in New York City by visiting political clubs and organizations in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Harlem. Other groups in our coalition presented educational forums in Rochester, Syracuse, Palmyra, Somers, Long Island and elsewhere. We have also worked with our partners to conduct phonebanking of residents in districts where State Senators have gone back on campaign promises to reform redistricting. We have completed over 2,000 calls to date which has resulted in many calls to legislators’ offices and hundreds of emails from Citizens Union’s online action center.
Citizens Union is also working with new members of the ReShapeNY coalition, including several Asian-American advocacy groups, which are concerned about how the redistricting process has affected their representation in the state legislature. At a press conference , The MinKwon Center for Community Action and other Asian-American organizations in New York announced the creation of an Asian-American coalition to advocate for redistricting reform and that they would support Citizens Union’s ReShapeNY Campaign. Citizens Union also released data identifying 15 Assembly and 6 State Senate Districts with Asian Americans equal to or exceeding 20 percent of the population. This event was part of a larger media strategy that has resulted in favorable editorial board statements on redistricting from the New York Times for example, and broader press coverage in CNN. You can see all of ReShapeNY’s press coverage at reshapeny.org.
With the end of the legislative session approaching, we organized a lobby day on redistricting in Albany on Wednesday, June 1st to communicate directly our message to legislators (for more details, see our events section). Citizens Union has been very present in Albany in recent weeks, and presented a statement about the need for redistricting reform before the end of session at a forum hosted by the Senate Democrats.
After several months of intense negotiations around ethics reform, Governor Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Skelos announced last week a historic agreement on far-reaching ethics reforms. The agreement has now been embodied in legislation, the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011, and is expected to pass the legislature this week. Citizens Union expressed support for the measure , believing that it will provide first-ever disclosure of legislators’ outside clients and amounts of outside income, lifting a veil on the currently unknown relationships between legislators and business interests. This agreement followed a promise from Governor Cuomo to appoint a Moreland Act Commission if the legislature did not act on ethics reform, which would have investigated the legislature regarding possible ethical violations. This achievement is the culmination of three years of work by Citizens Union to highlight the need for ethics reform, releasing reports in 2009 and 2011 on the rise in ethical misconduct, and continuing to advocate for reform through various means. CU weighed in on the issue recently, testifying to the State Senate Democratic Conference on the need for comprehensive ethics reforms, and had been involved in discussions with the Governor and legislature prior to the agreement’s release.
Citizens Union recently released recommendations for changes to the city’s lobbying laws at the final public hearing of the City Lobbying Commission. The recommendations included measures that would:
- lessen the perceived or actual connection between campaign contributions and lobbying;
- prohibit contributions bundled by lobbyists from being matched by public funds;
- prevent campaigns from using public money to hire lobbyists who also offer campaign services to the very candidates they lobby;
- improve disclosure of lobbying activity by simplifying lobbying reporting to the state;
- require mandatory reporting training for new lobbyists;
- expand the definition of lobbying to include the period before bills are introduced;
- refine search functions on the city’s and state’s databases; and
- permit amnesty for small organizations who have been unaware of the requirements to report their lobbying activity.
The City Lobbying Commission will release a draft report in June of its proposals to the Council for changes to the law. Citizens Union will have further opportunity to weigh in at that time.
As the mayor and City Council try to hammer out a budget deal by the end of the month, Gotham Gazette has focused on some key areas. In Conflict on Contracts, Courtney Gross examined conflicting claims over whether the city could avoid teacher layoffs and fire company shut down if it cut back on the billions of dollars it pay to consultants and private firms. Other stories have focused on proposed cut to day care, homeless programs and swimming pools.
With Mayor Bloomberg having released a new PlaNYC, Gotham Gazette continues to examine the effort to create a more environmentally friendly city. As part of this, two senior fellows at the Pratt Center looked at what role the public should play in the process, while longtime GG contributor Anne Schwartz reported on how green roofs and more vegetation could clean New York harbor and save money. And CUNY professor Melissa Checker examined efforts to clean up old industrial sites. This occasional series continues.
Also recently in Gotham Gazette:
The 2013 election may be more than two years away, but candidates are already building their war chests. Councilpedia, Gotham Gazette’s acclaimed tool for tracking local officials, now includes all the 2013 campaign contribution filings for members of the City Council, the comptroller and the public advocate. Check in to see who’s giving what to whom — and then tell Gotham Gazette what you know.
Three St. Patrick’s parade openly excludes gays — but still get city funding. Mayor Bloomberg and Council Speaker Quinn say there’s no reason that should change.
Gotham Gazette’s David King led the journalistic pack in reporting that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was likely to withdraw the state from a program that has local law enforcement sharing fingerprints with federal immigration officials. A few days later, Cuomo made the move.
A picture-perfect evening was the backdrop for this year’s Spring for Reform event on May 25th, when over 200 reform-minded guests converged on Manhattan Penthouse to celebrate community leadership in New York City. Lucy Cabrera, Liz Neumark and Karen Washington were honored for their diverse work to feed New Yorkers and, in so doing, creating a stronger, more sustainable city. WNYC’s Brian Lehrer (at left) reminded us, often amusingly, of the adage “Truth is stranger than fiction,” particularly when political realities are involved. Following his remarks, Lehrer engaged the honorees in a lively discussion of their work and the political and practical realities they face in achieving their goals.
Guests enjoying the conversation at Manhattan Penthouse
Citizens Union on June 1st held a successful lobby day with members of the ReShapeNY coalition to push for redistricting reform before the end of session. ReShapeNY Leaders Dick Dadey of Citizens Union (at left), Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters NYS, and Bill Mahoney from NYPIRG gave a presentation regarding the need for redistricting reform and tips for lobbying legislators. Our nearly 60 citizen activists were also addressed by Senator Michael Gianaris (D-Queens, also at left) and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua), who have both been champions for redistricting reform. The group met with 45 legislative offices representing Democratic and Republican members from upstate New York, New York City, and Long Island.
This year’s Annual Meeting will feature a stimulating civic conversation with major media figures. We hope you’ll join us!
Transcending Partisan Politics for the Public Interest: Is it Possible?
A conversation with Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan and Jeff Greenfield, journalist and author of Then Everything Changed. Moderated by John Avlon, Citizens Union Board member and columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast.
Thursday, June 16th, 5:30 – 8:00 pm
Cooper Union, Frederick P. Rose Auditorium
41 Cooper Square (East Side of Third Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets)
5:30 pm Doors open
5:45 pm Annual Meeting of Citizens Union Members
6:15 pm Civic Conversation
The Civic Conversation is open to the public. The Annual Meeting of Members is open only to current Citizens Union members at the $30 level or higher. Citizens Union Foundation supporters who would like to participate should join Citizens Union at the $30 level or higher. You can join or renew your membership online or call 212-227-0342.
RSVP for the Annual Meeting at 212-227-0342 x39 or at [email protected]
When Citizens Union needs to make a legal case, one of the people they turn to is CU State Affairs Committee member Greg Silbert. An appellate lawyer at Weil, Gotshal and Manges, Greg helped Citizens Union file a friend of the court brief (amicus brief) in support of CU’s position that Governor Paterson had the legal authority to appoint a lieutenant governor in the case of a vacancy. The case went all the way to the top court in New York State and resulted in Paterson’s appointment of Richard Ravitch to the post and the busting of Albany gridlock in the summer of 2009. Greg’s other pro bono work for CU included drafting a memo to rebut the Senate Majority conference’s argument that Governor Cuomo’s legislation calling for an independent redistricting commission would be unconstitutional.
“That was a lot of fun,” said Greg. “It’s great to be able to pull together a team of people here who are excited to work on this stuff, and to see CU make use of it, and for it to have an effect on state policy.”
In early 2009, Greg was looking for a way to becoming involved in pro bono community work. He asked former CU Board chair Rich Davis, a partner at Weil, what was the most valuable thing he could do.
“Right away he came up with Citizens Union, and introduced me to Dick Dadey,” said Greg.
For Greg, Citizens Union is important as a nonpartisan force that watches government processes closely, always keeping the public interest in mind.
“Legislators are supposed to do that but of course they don’t,” said Greg. “They know Citizens Union is watching and they know it’s helpful to have Citizens Union’s approval. If they stray too far, Citizens Union will speak up about it.”
This year, we are asking current and lapsed members to help broaden and deepen our reach. The more members, the stronger our voice. Please join Citizens Union or renew your membership, and persuade 3-5 reform-minded friends to come on board as well by inviting them to our June 16th discussion: “Transcending Partisan Politics” (see above). They’ll stay in the loop on policy developments at the city and state level, and be the first to know about our public programs like this one. Memberships start at $30. The more you give, the more we can accomplish!
To read recent coverage of our work visit the In the News section of our website.