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The Reformer


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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from Dick Dadey, Executive Director

Though the fall is in full swing (see the state’s foliage tracker at, somehow this one feels different. It likely does because there is no active campaign going on for any major office in New York City, other than races for district attorney in the Bronx, Staten Island, and Queens. It truly is an off-election year punctuated by a few but important special elections to fill vacancies that were conveniently held on primary election day.

Taking advantage of this lull in the action, Citizens Union is in the midst of its first-ever strategic planning process, and soon will be reaching out to its members and supporters like you to get important input on the future direction and scope of our work.

The lack of a full election season doesn’t mean that we aren’t engaged in working on other significant issues, though. We continue to press forward with our redistricting reform campaign and other concerns like lobbying reform and independent expenditures, the details of which are below.

State Updates

Redistricting Reform

Citizens Union has continued the drum beat to reform the process of drawing state legislative and congressional district lines, calling for a special session to be held this fall to create an independent redistricting commission before the 2012 lines are drawn. CU has participated at hearings through the late summer and early fall held by the state’s redistricting task force, the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), in Albany, Queens, and Manhattan. In Queens on September 7th, CU’s testimony pointed to the disparity between Asian American and Latino populations in Queens and the number of state legislators representing these groups, expanding on its   previous analysis of Asian American representation  in the state legislature.

Due to the advocacy of Citizens Union and members of the ReShapeNY coalition, the issue has been kept alive for voters as well. A September 20th Quinnipiac poll found that redistricting reform is a continued concern of voters, and that 77 percent of voters support removing some or all of the responsibility from the legislature for drawing district lines. Further, 48 percent of voters polled said they would feel betrayed if legislators failed to enact independent redistricting before 2012.

Prior to the LATFOR hearing in Manhattan on September 21st, CU held a  press conference  with former Mayor Ed Koch and members of NY Uprising. Joining Dick Dadey were former Attorney General Bob Abrams, president of Citizens Union Foundation, and John Avlon, CU Board member and Senior Columnist for Newsweek (see top left). Citizens Union called for a new way forward on redistricting reform in its   testimony to LATFOR , calling on legislators to break the impasse on this issue. We proposed creating an independent process with good criteria for 2012 that is less than the ideal proposal introduced by Governor Cuomo, but only if this statutory change is tied to the passage of a constitutional amendment creating permanent and more independent reform.

City Updates

City Lobbying Commission

The City Lobbying Commission in September held its final hearing before releasing its final report with recommendations for reforming the city’s lobbying laws. Seven of CU’s original fourteen recommendations were embraced by the Commission in its preliminary report, as reported in the  last edition of The Reformer. Any recommendations in the report will have to go through the City Council and its legislative process in order to be approved as laws and enacted. Citizens Union testified at the final hearing , making suggestions to hone proposals in the preliminary report.

Citizens Union made recommendations in several areas that were not adopted by the commission, including measures that would sever the perceived or actual connection between campaign contributions and lobbying. The final recommendations of the City Lobbying Commission are expected to be released in October.

Regulating Independent Campaign Spending

During the 2010 City Charter Revision process, Citizens Union, recognizing the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United would accelerate independent spending by party committees, corporations, unions, interest groups, and wealthy individuals, supported greater disclosure of independent expenditures (political spending that is not coordinated with candidates running for office). Citizens Union recommended disclosure of independent spending on items such as advertisements, including the dates, amounts and beneficiaries of the spending, as well as the organizations engaging in campaign activities and their top donors.

The Charter Revision Commission agreed with this recommendation and placed it on the ballot. Voters overwhelmingly approved the proposal in November 2010. The Campaign Finance Board (CFB), in seeking to implement the new law held a hearing over the summer at which  Citizens Union testified and then issued proposed regulations spelling out precisely what forms of disclosure would be required and reporting mechanisms for that disclosure. Among our initial suggestions were to interpret broadly communications intended to influence voters about a candidate so disclosure would not simply be limited to advertisements using so-called express advocacy words such as “vote for” or “vote against.” We also called for detailed information to be provided about those making independent expenditures as well as the targets of such spending.

The CFB’s proposed rules mirror many of our recommendations, establishing a broad interpretation of independent expenditures including communications made just before an election that do not use express advocacy words but are still intended to influence voting at the polls. While Citizens Union did not weigh in on whether communications between members of a union or non-profit organization should be reported, the CFB draft regulations would require disclosure of certain types of member-to-member communications including literature mailed separately from typical newsletters to members about a candidate. Citizens Union will comment on the draft regulations at the CFB hearing on October 27th.


Election Updates

Special Election Results

A special election was held during the primary election on September 13th to fill vacancies in several state legislative seats in addition to the seat vacated by former Congressmember Anthony Weiner. While the Congressional special election drew national attention with the election of the Republican candidate, Bob Turner, little attention was given to the results in the state legislative races. Citizens Union has voiced its opposition to the special election process, which allows party officials to select which candidates will appear on the ballot, which has historically resulted in low turnout.

Citizens Union’s research has continuously pointed out the   high number of current legislators who were first elected to their seats through a special election  where the nominees are chosen by the party leaders and not by members voting in a primary. These party-chosen candidates can then run as incumbents during the next regularly scheduled election contest, giving them a leg up on any challengers that run against them. With this last special election, the high rate now stands at 28 percent.

The victors in the state legislative races are listed below.

  • 23rd Assembly District, Queens(Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Far Rockaway, Broad Channel, Breezy Point)
  • 27th Assembly District, Queens (Flushing, College Point, Corona, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill)
  • 54th Assembly District, Brooklyn (Bushwick, Cypress Hills, East New York)
  • 73rd Assembly District, Manhattan (Upper East Side, Midtown East)
  • 144th Assembly District, Buffalo

CU Testimony on City Board of Elections

Citizens Union   testified  in September before the City Council’s Governmental Operations Committee regarding the September 13th primary and special elections, as well as the general performance of the City Board of Elections this past year. Citizens Union gave the Board of Elections a mixed review. They have improved in some ways, for example recruiting 4,000 more poll workers since the last election and working toward putting sample ballots online in advance of this fall’s General Election, a position long advocated for by Citizens Union. The Board of Elections, however, has not acted on necessary reforms like better utilizing technology to communicate with voters and improving administration. It has yet to implement a number of small changes, including webcasting its weekly meetings, creating a system to receive poll worker applications online, and emailing or texting New Yorkers regarding upcoming election dates and relevant election-related deadlines.


November General Election Reminders

At the upcoming General Election on November 8th, local elections are taking place across the state. In New York City, judicial elections are being held. Outside of New York City, elections are taking place for local legislatures, mayor, and county executive positions. A list of candidates will be available on the City Board of Elections website closer to the date of the election, or your local county board of elections website. Below is a list of election deadlines for this November’s general election.

Fri, Oct 14Last day to register in personWed, Oct 19Mailed registation forms must be receivedWed, Oct 19Change of address forms must be receivedFri, Oct 28Last day to register in person IF you have been honorably discharged from the military OR have become a naturalized citizen since October 14thTues, Nov 1Last day to postmark an application or letter of application by mail for an absentee ballotMon, Nov 7Last day to apply IN PERSON for an absentee ballotMon, Nov 7Last day to postmark absentee ballot. Must be received by the local board of elections no later than November 15. Military Voter Ballots must be received no later than November 21.Tues, Nov 8Last day to deliver absentee ballot IN PERSON to the local board of elections (by someone other than the voter)Tues, Nov 8 GENERAL ELECTION

Fri, Oct 14

Last day to mail voter registration application

The deadline to register to vote, whether you register in person or by mail, is Friday, October 14. If you are mailing your application, make sure it is postmarked by October 14. Accordingly, this is the last day to register in person at your county board of elections. If you need to vote absentee in this election, you can apply for an absentee ballot either in person or by mail. If you mail in your application, it must be postmarked by November 1. You have until November 7 to apply in person for an absentee ballot at your county board of elections. November 7 is also the deadline for mailing in your absentee ballot; make sure your ballot is postmarked by this date. If you prefer to have someone hand deliver your ballot to the local board of elections, they have until November 8 to do so.

Below are links to the forms needed to register to vote or apply for an absentee ballot.


Voter Registration Form (may also be used to change your address)

Absentee Ballot Application

For questions or more information, see the City Board of Elections website or State Board of Elections website, e-mail [email protected], or call 866-VOTE-NYC in New York City, or (518) 474-6220 if you live in another part of the state.

Gotham Gazette Highlights

Connecting Cuomo to the People

Gotham Gazette’s state government editor David King was preparing an article on transparency (or the lack thereof) in the Cuomo administration when he learned the governor’s staff was preparing to launch a new website that would make Cuomo’s schedule and a wealth of other information public. As King pressed for details, the governor’s office gave him an exclusive preview of CitizenConnects. If the site lives up to its promise, King writes in the Gotham Gazette exclusive, it could constitute a major change in Albany, where secrecy has long been standard operating procedure. 

Remembering 9/11

On Sept. 11, Gotham Gazette looked forward and back. Ten years ago, Gotham Gazette quickly went into action after the attacks, launching a site on the rebuilding of New York. This year, Gotham Gazette issued a roundup of some of those stories and posted fresh reporting as well. Noted demographer and regular Gotham Gazette contributor Andy Beveridge enumerated the losses in Lower Manhattan. Other new articles examined the continuing controversy over compensation for Ground Zero first responders, the halting progress at the Fulton Street transit hub and the rebound of a Pakistani community in Brooklyn.


The Tattered Net

Gotham Gazette’s series on poverty policies in New York continued with articles on getting out of foster care and effort to help parents serving time in prison still be parents.

Also recently in Gotham Gazette:

The Service Is Public, but the Money Isn’t

New York City has increasingly sought out private donations to pay for public services. Is that any way to fund a government?

Falling Through the Cracks

Foreclosure has put many apartment buildings throughout the city in limbo, leaving tenants to grapple with leaky roofs, insufficient heat, broken locks and other problems.

Tainted Schools

The closing of the Bronx New School after inspector found high levels of a toxic substance there made headlines. But as the city puts classrooms on former industrial sites, more schools could pose a danger to the health of their students and staff.


Awards Dinner 2011: Celebrate the Citizens Union “Difference”


On Thursday, October 27, 2011 at The Pierre, Citizens Union’s Annual Awards Dinner will celebrate five New Yorkers whose leadership and commitment has strengthened New York City’s civic life. Citizens Union’s unique nonpartisan approach attracts each year a dynamic, interesting mix of honorees and dinner guests whose diverse political perspectives promise a lively evening! Join us as we honor:

  • Monica Azare – Business Leadership Award
    Deputy General Counsel for Verizon Telecom and Business
  • Sheila L. Birnbaum – Public Service Award
    Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and Partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
  • Julie Menin – Civic Leadership Award
    Chairperson of Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan and Founder of Wall Street Rising
  • Gary P. Naftalis – Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Award
    Partner and head of the Litigation Department at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP
  • Rudy Washington – Government Leadership Award
    Deputy Mayor for Community Development and Business Services under Mayor Rudy Giuliani

This annual fundraising event raises critical support that powers Citizens Union’s work all year long. For reservations, sponsorship opportunities and further information, please contact Kristine Bruch at 212-228-7446 x15 or [email protected]. You may also purchase tickets or make a contribution online.

Who is Citizens Union?

Allan Dobrin

Allan Dobrin joined the Board of Citizens Union in 2006 because it was a natural extension of the values he’s dedicated his entire career to–as he puts it “trying to serve the larger public interest and not the smaller interests.”

Born and raised in Queens, where he still lives with his wife and two children, Allan attended New York City public schools from kindergarten through graduate school. Continuing his lifelong association with New York City public education, he now serves as Executive Vice Chancellor & Chief Operating Officer at his alma mater, the City University of New York. In his ten years at CUNY, Allan’s initiatives have included the CUNY Task Force on Sustainability and the CUNY Productivity Initiative which has served as a model for universities nationwide hoping to increase productivity while lowering costs and increasing revenue.

In a lifetime dedicated to public service in New York City, Allan set up and served as commissioner of the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) under Mayor Giuliani and was the City’s Chief Information Officer. He has held leadership positions in the administrations of Mayors Koch and Dinkins in agencies such as the Board of Education and the Mayor’s Office of Operations. He also served as deputy executive director of Bellevue Hospital Center.

Allan’s long and varied tenure in city government brings an insightful perspective to Citizens Union’s policy positions. For his part, Allan values the unique influence that CU wields.

“It’s the one group in New York City and New York State that can speak to the issues of good government that people listen to and pay attention to, he says.

Having weathered a few decades of its ups and downs, Allan has never tired of the city he has lived in and served all his life.

“Every day I see things I haven’t seen before,” Allan says. “The city is constantly changing. I’ve done a fair amount of travel recently and all the great things I see in other cities New York has. . . . And no city has as much of it as we do!”

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