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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

This fall’s election is the quietest local election since 1999, with little on the ballot that will bring voters to the polls, but everyone should vote if there is a contest, no matter how small.

Unfortunately, Albany is quiet but for the continuing investigations into the conduct of the Spitzer administration’s use of the state police to monitor Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s travel activity. The agreement reached in July on campaign finance is on hold as are many other important issues – including many appointments – as talks between the Senate and the Governor are nonexistent. It is distressing that the investigation has sucked all the air out of Albany and prevented needed action on long standing issues. Still, a thorough investigation by the state Ethics Commission, which will soon become the new Office on Public Integrity, is needed in order to clear the air and hopefully restore some of the public’s trust in the Spitzer administration ability to govern without such careless missteps. One of the biggest challenges for the Governor will be to regain the public’s interest in reforming Albany and state government if it hasn’t tuned out as a result of this whole sad and unnecessary series of missteps.

CU has taken the position that the Governor and his staff should fully cooperate with the investigation being conducted by the State Ethics Commission and led by its highly regarded chair, John Feerick, and that any further judgment or competing investigation on what happened should wait until the Commission issues its report.


2007 Primary Elections Update

A Quiet Season

This year’s primary election season is a quiet one in New York City with no executive or legislative positions up for election. Instead, there are races for three district attorneys, district leaders, county committee and in a small handful of locations races for judgeships. As reported in Gotham Gazette’s Guide to the Last Minute Voter:

“2007 gives a new meaning to the term ‘off year’ election, and the primary looks especially sleepy.” Many New Yorkers – voters in good standing registered with one of the parties – will simply have nothing to vote for on Tuesday, Sept. 18. The big action will occur in Brooklyn where there are three spirited contests for judgeships. Elsewhere, many of the contested offices are for internal party posts, followed by only the most ardent political aficionado.

“Perhaps the most notable thing about this election may be when it takes place. Instead of occurring on the second Tuesday of September – the usual primary day – it is being held on the third. The second Tuesday fell on 9/11 – the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks — and officials felt it was somehow improper to vote that day.

“That decision prompted Clyde Haberman of the New York Times to scoff, ‘We can shop, and go to a ballgame, and make money. But allow our democracy to function normally? Nope. That is somehow incompatible with Sept. 11.'”

To read the full Gotham Gazette story and to learn more about this year’s primaries, and whether or not there will be one in your district, see The Guide to the Last Minute Voter


CU supports Diana Johnson for Brooklyn Surrogate

Citizens Union today announced its support for the election of Diana Johnson for Brooklyn Surrogate in the one of the few competitive local races in the 2007 Democratic Party primary election.

In its evaluation of the two candidates, Citizens Union felt both candidates were qualified to serve, but was concerned with each candidate’s political ties to different elements of the Brooklyn party. On balance, the organization felt that Judge Johnson’s greater experience as a jurist gave her the edge.

To review each candidate’s response to our questionnaire, click here.


State Updates

State Board of Election Plan for HAVA Implementation

The New York State Board of Elections has announced it will introduce its HAVA (Help America Vote Act) implementation plan beginning with the September 2008 primaries. For the upcoming 2007 primary and general elections, as well as the 2008 presidential primary in February, most New Yorkers will continue to vote on the Shoup lever voting machines. The ballot marking devices that were utilized to allow greater access for disabled voters, as required under an interim plan to satisfy some of the requirements of HAVA, will be in effect during those elections as well.

Advocates for the disabled and other election reform groups, including Citizens Union, contend that the city should expand upon its partial implementation plan and include ballot marking devices in additional or different, more accessible locations for disabled voters. The State Board of Elections is considering a measure to require ballot marking devices in all polling locations, as well as the possibility of utilizing direct recording electronic, or DRE, voting machines instead of the ballot marking devices, although most counties have yet to select a new voting technology, and the machines themselves have yet to be certified. Citizens Union has joined a coalition of groups, urging the State Board not to utilize technology that has yet to be certified.


Who is Citizens Union?

Helena Durst, Citizens Union Member, Board Member, and Gotham Reformer Co-Chair

Helena Rose Durst is Assistant Vice President and a fourth generation working family member of The Durst Organization, one of New York’s oldest and privately owned real estate firms. Comprising a portfolio greater than 8.5 million square feet of commercial and residential real estate, the Durst Organization develops environmentally responsible properties. Since joining, Helena has completed more than 50,000 square feet of transactions in the city and manages two upstate Durst properties: McEnroe Organic Farm, a 680-acre organic farm in Dutchess County and the 2,300-acre Carvel Property Development in Hudson Valley.

Helena is a co-chair of the Gotham Reformers, Citizens Union’s new membership program for emerging civic, business and non-profit leaders. In addition she serves as board president of Voices Unbroken and treasurer of Just Foods.

“Citizens Union is the city’s most important good government organization. It is a driving force in government reform. This organization is successful in its programmatic goals, such as campaign finance reform and providing quality information, in the form of the Gotham Gazette and its daily email blasts. I am proud to be a part of such a quality organization.”


2007 Annual Dinner

On Tuesday, October 23rd, Citizens Union will honor four great New Yorkers at our Awards Dinner at the Waldorf=Astoria:

Diana L. Taylor – Civic Leadership Award
Citizens Union is delighted to honor Diana L. Taylor, Managing Director at Wolfensohn & Company, for her extensive service to New Yorkers as the former Superintendent of New York State Banks, as Governor Pataki’s Deputy Secretary for Finance and Housing, and as Chair of the Hudson River Park Trust.

Alexandra Lebenthal – Business Leadership Award
For her leadership and contributions to the business and civic life of New York, Citizen Union will honor Alexandra Lebenthal, president and CEO of Alexandra & James, Co. The former CEO of Lebenthal & Company, a municipal bond company founded by her grandparents, Alexandra was one of the few female Presidents on Wall Street.

Patricia M. Hynes & Roy L. Reardon – Robert F. Wagner Jr.
For their work to make New York’s courts accessible and responsive, Citizens Union will honor Patricia M. Hynes, senior counsel with Allen & Overy and Roy Reardon, partner with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. As immediate past Chair of New York’s Legal Aid Society, Pat is credited with saving this vital civic organization from bankruptcy and maintaining its essential public services to the poor. As an advocate, mediator and author, Roy has worked for improvement in the courts, adding greatly to the fair, effective and independent administration of justice in New York State, as well as advancing the rights of the disabled by arguing successfully before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Click here to view the dinner invitation. If you are interesting in supporting our Awards Dinner by purchasing a table, tickets or contributing, please click here or for more information, contact Sara Stuart.

Many thanks to our Gotham Reformer Co-Chairs, Helena Durst, Mark Foggin, Jennifer Mercurio and Edward Swenson, for helping to organize and lead this special evening and recruiting 75 new CU members. The Gotham Reformers are active in the work of Citizens Union by joining committees, organizing programs for members and providing opportunities for civic minded New Yorkers to network.


Gotham Reformers Harbor Cruise

On September 10th Citizens Union’s Gotham Reformer Members enjoyed a cruise and reception on the New York Water Taxi. The group was joined by the following three special guests who shared unique and inspiring stories of the efforts of New Yorkers to improve access to the city’s waterfront and the great strides that have been made in that area over the past three decades:

• Robert Pirani, Director of Environment Programs at the Regional Plan Association
• Marianna Koval, President of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, and
• Murray Fisher, Founder and Program Director of the New York Harbor School, and a Gotham Reformer.

Robert Pirani served as the charter’s tour guide and provided the passengers with a historical perspective of New York City’s waterfront and current developments in what is now being dubbed New York City’s “harbor district.” Marianna Koval shared stories of the long and hard fought effort to create the Brooklyn Bridge Park and how BBPC’s programs are engaging the community and building a constituency for expanding the park. Murray Fisher described the New York Harbor School which he founded to inspire and prepare NYC youth to become the next generation of water resource managers, users, scientists and conservationists. Their students are on the water every week, weather permitting, and they sail from New York to Maine every spring. A public high school and part of the network of Urban Assembly schools, the New York Harbor School, currently located in Bushwick, Brooklyn will be making the move to a new school on Governor’s Island in 2009!

Citizens Union thanks Helena Durst and the New York Water Taxi for hosting this enjoyable and informative evening. More membership events are planned for the coming months — so stay tuned.

Gotham Gazette NEWS AND Highlights

Be sure to read Gotham Gazette’s popular Guide for the Last Minute Voter and look for our comprehensive primary election coverage later in the week.

Worrying About Wall Street
Citizens Grading Government
Poll Site Access for the Disabled
Crumbling Systems
A Divided Council Confronts Congestion Pricing

Citizens Union In the News

• September 11, 2007, “An End-Run Around Term Limits Is Eyed,” The New York Sun
• September 11, 2007, “A Day of Respect, Except for the Ballot,” The New York Times
• August 21, 2007, “A Close Look at Public Housing,” The Gothamist
• August 17, 2006, “Undercover,” Downtown Express
• August 17, 2006, “Top Officials Make Friday An Away Day,” The New York Sun
• August 7, 2006, “Putting Spitzer Scandal Aside, GOP Finally Gets Back to the Business of Policing Itself,” The Daily News
• August 6, 2007, “20 City Council Members Support or Lean Towards Pricing,” Streetblog
• August 6, 2007, “Council on Congestion,” The Daily Politics
• August 3, 2007, “For Young Earners in Big City, a Gap in Women’s Favor ,” The New York Times
• August 3, 2007, “Young Women in Cities: You’re Gonna Make It After All,” The Gothamist
• August 2, 2007, “Pluses, Minuses in Ethics Panel Probe,” Newsday

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