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November 2009
Engaging New Yorkers to Reform Government Vol. 4, Issue 3


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

The city elections are over, but the need for reform in Albany looms larger than ever. While there is now an agreement on public authorities reform, rising incidents of ethical misconduct among state legislators show the need for additional reforms in the area of ethics. There needs to be better oversight, stronger enforcement and greater transparency in state government – and not just in regards to ethics, which is why you will soon hear about Citizens Union’s campaign to change Albany. Until then, please read about all the exciting happenings and real progress we have been championing.

And as we begin our season of thanks and celebration, let me say thank you for supporting the important political reform and good government work of Citizens Union. We are able to achieve all that we do because of the support of our members and supporters. Happy Thanksgiving.


City Updates

The 2010 City Council

The November 3rd elections solidified several major changes in the incoming 2010 class of city councilmembers. Not only did Republican representation increase from three to five members, but the majority of the council will soon be comprised of non-whites – 28 out of 51 councilmembers will be persons of color. The incoming 2010 City Council also includes thirteen new councilmembers, five of whom beat incumbents to win office – the largest proportion in a very long time.


State Updates

State Ethics Reform Remains Unimplemented Despite Increasing Ethical Concerns

Citizens Union previously reported in its September Reformer that Senate leadership was unable to pass both A.9032/S.6064, Assembly Speaker Silver’s ethics bill, and S.6157, the corresponding Senate chapter amendment strengthening the Silver bill during the September 10th special session. While Citizens Union issued a  statement  applauding the State Senate’s efforts to pass these reforms, ethics reform at this time unfortunately remains an unimplemented issue on the legislative agenda.

We believe that ethics reform is needed now more than ever, given pending questionable ethical issues like Senator Hiram Monserrate’s conviction of a misdemeanor assault charge and the trial of former Senate Majority Leader Bruno exposing the surprising revelations of close knit his world was between his private enterprise and public duties. This is one of the reasons why Citizens Union this week  released  its  report  at a news conference with its good government colleagues, who endorsed the report, detailing its analysis of the reasons for legislative turnover between 1999 – 2009. The report finds that legislators are increasingly leaving office due to ethical or criminal misconduct with one of every fifteen legislative seats having turned over because of such misconduct. The report also showed that twice as many legislators lost their seats due to misconduct than lost either to death or redistricting. The report also provides recommendations to encourage turnover that may be productive to voters, while discouraging turnover that decreases voters’ confidence in state government.

As an additional part of its coordinated effort to push ethics reform, Citizens Union, along with its good government colleagues, issued a  press release  and filed a  complaint with the Legislative Ethics Commission asking it to investigate whether Senator Monserrate illegally setup a legal defense fund.


Important Public Authorities Reform Agreement Reached

The State Legislature reached an agreement with the Governor this week on legislation amending a previous bill passed by the legislature year that reforms public authorities – a key reform goal of Citizens Union for the past six years. Among the major elements of the reform bill are:

  • Creation of an independent Authorities Budget Office to oversee authority operations;
  • State Comptroller review of certain noncompetitively procured contracts for more than $1 million;
  • Mandated and enhanced financial reporting, mission statements and measurement reports by public authorities;
  • Strengthened rules governing the sale of property by public authorities to prevent the give-away of public property to private developers;
  • Strengthened rules governing contact between lobbyists and employees of public authorities;
  • Regulation of the formation of subsidiary corporations and their issuance of debt;
  • Creation of a fiduciary duty for board members of a public authority to perform their duties in the best interest of the authority, its mission and the public; and
  • Creation a Whistleblower Access and Assistance Program to protect those individuals who report wrongdoing.


CU Budget Reform Report Card

In the backdrop of a special session of the State Legislature called to make cuts to the state budget, Citizens Union  released  on November 5th a  Budget Reform Report Card . The report card analyzed the Governor and the Legislature’s progress in implementing the budget reforms enacted in 2007 and outlines additional actions needed to reform the budget process. This report card builds upon Citizen Union’s  Issue Brief and Position Statement  on New York State Budget Reform, which was issued in December 2008 and summarizes the organization’s recommendations for how to further improve the efficiency, integrity and transparency of the state budget process.


CU Testifies on Ballot Access

Citizens Union  testified  before the State Senate Election Committee on the importance of reforming the state’s onerous ballot access laws that are often used to stunt competition. The 2009 elections highlighted some of the problems with the current laws regarding how candidates are placed on the ballot, and Citizens Union encouraged the state to look to other cities and states for best practices – such as combining fees and signature requirements – on how to make the process fairer and make elections more competitive.


Creation of a New York State “C-Span”

The Senate and Assembly earlier this year established by concurrent resolution, B.2775/C.787, a Joint Advisory Board on the Broadcast of State Government Proceedings, which was formally created in September. It has released its initial report, which calls for a fully-independent New York State government affairs channel modeled after C-SPAN. Citizens Union recommended to members of the board that the state implement such a model, and will continue to be engaged on this issue in future public meetings.


CU Calls for Vote on Marriage Equality Bill

Citizens Union released a  statement  calling for the State Senate to vote on the marriage equality bill at its November 10th special session in the spirit of an open and robust democratic process. The statement noted that there is precedent for bringing civil rights legislation to the floor without the full approval of the majority conference, as was seen when then Senate Majority Leader Bruno brought the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act to the floor in 2000, even though his conference did not have sufficient enough numbers to pass it without assistance from Democratic Senators.


Citizens Union Cautions Against Eliminating Runoff Elections

Citizens Union  testified  before the Senate Standing Committee on Elections on November 12, 2009 about the 2009 elections and the optical scan voting systems pilot program, reiterating its  previous testimony before the committee that the State and local Boards of Election obtain all of the valuable data possible from those counties that did conduct a pilot roll out of the new optical scan voting machines to improve its operations in advance of full statewide implementation in 2010. The organization also testified that the State and local Boards focus on a comprehensive voter education plan in advance of full implementation to reduce voter confusion and surprise.

On the issue of instant runoff voting, Citizens Union is still studying this issue and working internally to finalize the organization’s position on this important, yet complex, reform initiative. The organization testified, however, that before the Senate and the bill sponsors reconsider taking action to scrap the current process of runoff elections until there is a mandatory replacement system in place to ensure that any candidate who is elected to hold citywide office is elected with support from a strong plurality or majority of voters.


Elections Update

During the recent general election a little over one million people went to the polls to vote in the races for Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and City Council. As part of its annual General Election Voters Directory, Citizens Union announced the endorsement of 16 candidates for elected office. Of those candidates, 14 won election to office, including the reelection of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Councilmembers Diana Reyna in Council District 34 and Eric Ulrich in Council District 32, among others. In addition, this year Citizens Union co-hosted the first of two Campaign Finance Board mayoral debates between Mayor Bloomberg and challenger Comptroller Bill Thompson, along with NY1, NY1 Noticias, New York Daily News, Time Warner Cable and WNYC. Between the primary and general election, Citizens Union supported the election to office of 24 successful candidates who will take office on January 1.


Gotham Gazette Highlights

Gotham Gazette received the Online News Association’s award for “general excellence in its circulation” category. The association cited Gotham Gazette as “exemplary in its thoroughness, comprehensiveness and the depth with which it explored the issues that are important to New Yorkers and New York,” praised the “impressive quality” of the site’s on-line games and interactive features, and called it “a top-notch example of the trend toward hyperlocal coverage.”

Gotham Gazette won in the new “micro” category for sites averaging 100,000 unique visitors a month or less. The awards are sometimes called the Pulitzers of online journalism. Gotham Gazette also was a finalist in the topical reporting category for its “Searchlight on City Hall.”

This is the third Online Journalism Award Gotham Gazette has received since its founding in 1999.

The Health Care Debate Comes Home

A number of experts, including State Sen. Liz Krueger, State Sen. Thomas Duane and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, write about what effects a federal health care bill could have on New Yorkers.

The First Two Terms

In the weeks leading up to the election, Gotham Gazette took an in-depth look at the Bloomberg record in a number of key areas, including education, reducing homelessness, transportation, parks, the economy, government reform and creation of affordable housing.

Switch It On!

With gadgets guzzling electricity, New York faces a looming energy gap. How would you fix it? Ban air conditioning? Harness the tides? Go nuclear? Play Gotham Gazette latest game and plan our energy future.

Mentally Ill Look for a Place to Call Home

Since it shut its large mental institutions, New York has put disabled adults in for-profit ‘homes.’ Recently a judge ruled that isolating people that way constitutes illegal discrimination. What happens now?



Civic Partnership with Academy of Civic Engagement

Citizens Union, through its partnership with the Academy for Civic Engagement in the Bronx, hosted a roundtable for 13 students to discuss the recent city elections. The students discussed the dynamics of the mayor’s race and the reasons why voter turnout tends to be low in many elections. They also discussed the importance of voting and the need to be educated about the candidates.



CU 2009 Awards Dinner

On the evening of Thursday, October 29, 350 people from New York’s leading civic institutions, law firms, businesses, and cultural organizations joined Citizens Union for its 2009 Awards Dinner at the Pierre Hotel. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the opening remarks for the event, which benefited Citizens Union’s advocacy, research and public education work. Reform of the state legislature in Albany was a focal point of the evening as Citizens Union gears up to launch its Campaign to Change Albany, an effort to directly engage ordinary New Yorkers like never before in the push for efficient, accountable, and transparent state government.

“We need to end the responsibility-ducking, ethically challenged, campaign cash-influenced, closed door deliberations, special interests-driven decision making process that passes for democracy in Albany. And we need to do it within the next two years.”—Dick Dadey, Executive Director, Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation
“Citizens Union evaluated over 100 candidates for citywide and within the city races. Notably, four of the challengers we supported [prevailed] against incumbents that we thought were no longer doing, or for that matter ever did, a good job in City Council—they were booted out. That is the highest number in the history of New York for many, many decades.”—Peter Sherwin, Chair, Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation
“Even after 112 years there’s still plenty of work for Citizens Union to do and plenty for all of us to do. You [Citizens Union] have been a very important partner with our administration. We’ve worked together to craft the most comprehensive pay-to-play campaign finance reform in the country. This law is now a model for the country.”—Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Former U.S. Senator to New York Alphonse D’Amato presented the Public Service Award to former New York City Mayor Ed Koch for his decades of public service as a Congressman, a City Council member, and as three-term mayor of New York City.

“I’m someone who is so indebted to this city, to this country, for all that it has given to me. I’m so grateful. And those who don’t understand how lucky they are to live in this city, in this state, and in this country, I pity you. But I know that no one in this room feels that way and that you’re all as exuberant on that issue as I am.”—Ed Koch

Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, presented the Civic Leadership Award to Lisa M. Quiroz, Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility for Time Warner, for directing that company’s philanthropic efforts focusing on education, the arts, and sustainability to the benefit of communities throughout the five boroughs.

“What’s so important in this city is for us to give voice to everyone, to find talent in all of our communities. And I hope that that is an effort that we will all continue to make, because that is the story of New York.”—Lisa Quiroz

New York City Department of Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe presented the prestigious Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Award to former Citizens Union board chair and Weil Gotshal partner, Richard J. Davis, in honor of his extraordinary service in the U.S. Departments of Justice and Treasury and as an influential civic leader in New York City.

“Citizens Union recognizes how important it is to the stability of our society that people have confidence in our government. . . . It is important that people believe, particularly in hard times, that the difficult decisions that are being made that will affect them in so many critical ways are being made in an open and understandable way.”—Richard J. Davis

Brian DuPerreault, President & CEO of Marsh & McLennan Companies presented the Business Leadership Award to Peter J. Beshar, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Marsh & McLennan, for his leadership in building a thriving business community in New York City.


“It’s really incumbent upon the business community to now actually get engaged and step into the fray and help find a solution to the state government crisis. . . . I think it will only credibly change if the illustrious corporations and firms that are represented here engage in a more meaningful way in Albany.”—Peter Beshar

Photo credit Julienne Shaer


Who is Citizens Union?

Lucy Cabrera

Dr. Cabrera has been President and CEO of the Food Bank of New York City since 1988. Under Dr. Cabrera’s direction, the Food Bank has distributed more than 820 million pounds of food to its network of food assistance programs — which now includes more than 1,000 programs throughout the five boroughs. The organization’s major programs include policy and research, volunteer programs, free tax assistance, food stamp prescreening and outreach, community kitchen of West Harlem, community supported agriculture, a senior food program, and CookShop. Dr. Cabrera is active on the boards of several non-profit organizations and serves as an adjunct/assistant professor at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs.

Dr. Cabrera has received a number of awards for her work in public service. Most recently she was presented with a Humanitarian Award at Boricua College’s 2009 graduation, honored at the 2008 Power Women Gala presented by New York Moves and was the recipient of the Latina Excellence in Leadership Award presented by 100 Hispanic Women, Inc. Dr. Cabrera received the Mujeres Destacadas (Outstanding Women) 2006 Award from El Diario/La Prensa.

Dr. Cabrera grew up in public housing on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and attended New York City public schools. She went on to earn degrees from Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Columbia University. She joined Citizens Union as a Board member in 1994.

“What drew me to Citizen Union membership and Board participation is the positions taken by CU in supporting and advocating for good government. And for many years as a member of both the Board and the Local Candidates Committee it gave me a voice in supporting those candidates which we believed would do the best work for the citizens of New York.”


Join Citizens Union as a Member

Why join Citizens Union as a member? Because we can’t do it without you!

The city elections are over, but Citizens Union’s work continues. Citizens Union, like you, is concerned about our state government’s increasing inability to take on tough issues and make the difficult decisions. Our state government is no longer just dysfunctional, it’s broken. If we don’t fix it soon there will be no way to ensure good jobs, access to health care, a robust economic climate or quality education, so we must act. Citizens Union will be launching a Campaign to Change Albany, and we ask you all to participate directly by joining us.

Since Citizens Union evaluates candidates for office and lobbies directly for legislation, it relies almost entirely on membership contributions. If you currently support Citizens Union Foundation or Gotham Gazette, consider also becoming a Citizens Union member. And if your membership has expired, please renew today!


Citizens Union In the News

To read recent coverage of our work visit the In the News section of our website.

Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation
299 Broadway, Suite 700, New York, NY 10007-1976
Phone 212-227-0342 – [email protected]
Peter J.W. Sherwin, Chair – Robert Abrams, President – Dick Dadey, Executive Director

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