|Engaging New Yorkers to Reform Government||Vol. 4, Issue 2|
IN THIS ISSUE
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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Since the last edition of the Reformer just three short months ago, Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation have been hard at work evaluating local elections, hosting candidate debates, issuing candidate preferences, offering solutions to end the State Senate chaos, advocating for the Governor to use his legal authority to appoint a new Lieutenant Governor, and urging for the adoption of real ethics reform, among other things. With your participation and support, Citizens Union has been able to not only inform elected officials and the public, but shape the consideration of issues and policies.
The one thing that all of these things have in common is Citizens Union’s nonpartisan, common ground approach in addressing important policy issues. What you will read below reflects this view and approach to our work. Thanks for making our work and victories possible.
Councilmembers Dan Garodnick, Bill de Blasio, Al Vann and other members of the City Council introduced legislation in July, Intro 1048, which would transfer to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) the responsibility and power to prosecute the cases it substantiates. Citizens Union worked closely with Councilmember Garodnick to craft the legislation, which is the realization of one of the major reforms that were recommended in CU’s 2008 Issue Brief and Position Statement on Public Oversight of Police Misconduct. A press release to announce the bill’s introduction and a fact sheet in support of the legislation were also issued by Citizens Union and Councilmember Garodnick.
Dick Dadey and Councilmember Garodnick also recently co-authored an article, “Putting Civilian Review Back Into the CCRB,” for the Huffington Post under their New York section which presents the policy argument for the legislation and aims to increase awareness of this issue.
Citizens Union plans to work with the Council in the coming months to build support for this important legislation. During our evaluation of candidates running for municipal office this year, we asked all candidates about their position on this proposal as a way to garner additional support. Citizens Union will work closely with the new class of Councilmembers – many of whom support this legislation – who will be entering office in January 2010 to pass this critically needed legislation.
The New York City Conflicts of Interest Board – the city’s ethics watchdog – on August 3, 2009 released a series of legislative proposals, as well as a user-friendly chart summarizing the proposals, to implement substantive and technical amendments to the city’s ethics laws. The Board’s recommendations fall within four categories and include changes such as ensuring budget protection for the Board, giving the Board investigative power, and prohibiting public servants from receiving any gift of value. Since the Board cannot implement these changes on its own or via regulation, the Board forwarded a letter outlining its proposals to the City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for the Council’s consideration. Citizens Union is in the process of evaluating the Board’s proposals and will continue to track the status of these proposals and keep our supporters abreast of any changes. Much like it did at the state level, Citizens Union is also looking at the entire area of city ethics oversight and may propose additional and necessary changes to the city’s structure and approach.
The City Council this summer upgraded its website to include a new web-based legislative search tool that better allows users to peruse legislation, Councilmembers’ sponsorships, committee reports, and track legislative history. Dick Dadey supported the new tool in the Council’s press release, which gives more information about the functions of the tool. Citizens Union will continue to advocate for more transparency of Council operations, including ways to further improve its website and users’ ability to find information, such as hearing transcripts and testimony.
In a decision overturning previous rulings made in lower courts, the New York State Court of Appeals upheld the governor’s ability to appoint a lieutenant governor should there be a vacancy in the office. This is not only a victory for the Governor, but also for Citizens Union which proposed the idea in July and then filed two amicus briefs in the courts on this issue. Citizens Union and Common Cause/NY issued a joint statement applauding the court’s decision which the organization believes is correct on the legal merits, and removes any uncertainty regarding the line of succession to the governor.
The legality of the Governor’s action was initially challenged in Supreme Court, Nassau County by Senators Dean Skelos and Pedro Espada, where the court granted their motion for a preliminary injunction barring Richard Ravitch from serving as lieutenant governor and denied the Governor’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The Supreme Court’s decision was appealed to the Appellate Division for the Second Department where Citizens Union and its good government colleague Common Cause filed its first amicus brief urging the court rule that the Governor had the legal authority to appoint Richard Ravitch as Lieutenant Governor. The Second Department affirmed the lower court’s decision, which was appealed to the state’s highest court – the State of New York’s Court of Appeals Citizens Union and Common Cause/NY filed a second amicus brief in support of the governor’s ability to appoint a lieutenant governor.
In July, a little over a month into the State Senate’s stalemate, Citizens Union, along with Assemblymember Gianaris and its good government colleague Common Cause/NY, issued a joint letter and held a press conference to express their collective belief that current law and the New York State Constitution read together allow Governor Paterson to appoint a Lieutenant Governor. Governor Paterson shortly thereafter, on July 8th, appointed Richard Ravitch as lieutenant governor which Citizens Union supported .
In reaching its position, Citizens Union relied upon a number of legal scholars and civic leaders, including several on its board such as Richard Briffault, Columbia Law School Professor; Robert M. Kaufman, Proskauer Rose partner and former President of the New York City Bar; Alan Rothstein, General Counsel at the New York City Bar; Peter Sherwin, CU Chair and Partner at Proskauer Rose; and John P. Avlon, noted author and media commentator.
After calling for ethics reform before the Senate leadership struggle, Citizens Union was encouraged to learn that ethics reform was on the Senate’s agenda for its special session on September 10, 2009. The Senate leadership aimed to improve upon the ethics proposals contained in A.9032 (Silver)/S.6064 (Squadron) passed by the Assembly at the end of the June legislative session by introducing S.6157 (Sampson). This chapter amendment of a bill would have strengthened the Assembly bill in several much-needed ways; it would have required random review or audits of filed disclosure statements, created an independent campaign finance enforcement unit at the Board of Elections, and provided for a three-year sunset provision to ensure the efficacy of the law is evaluated in a timely manner. Despite its best efforts, however, the Senate was unable to pass these reforms during the special session, which prompted Citizens Union and its good government colleagues to issue a statement applauding the State Senate’s efforts to pass ethics reforms and stating that it was imperative that both the Assembly bill and the proposed chapter amendment be passed as a package instead of passing only parts of the reform necessary to improve the state’s ethics laws. Citizens Union will continue to call on Albany’s elected leaders to pass critically-important ethics reform during the upcoming 2010 legislative session and during any special sessions called prior to then.
Citizens Union recently offered its comments on seven legislative proposals that were drafted by the Commission on Public Integrity (CPI), which are currently on its website, to amend the State Lobbying Act by submitting a written statement to the CPI. Citizens Union stated that lobbying reforms should generally be part of a holistic approach with changes to the state’s election, ethics and campaign finance laws to ensure that all intersections of money and politics are monitored and abuses of power prevented by a single entity. The statement also urged the Commission to strengthen its legislative proposals by including greater clarity and specificity regarding the scope and intention of the bills.
Prior to the September 15th primary election, Citizens Union released our annual voters’ directory which listed every contest for municipal public offices that were on the primary election ballot. Members of Citizens Union’s Board, as well as nonpartisan member interview teams from Citizens Union’s Local Candidates Committee, evaluated candidates for Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Manhattan District Attorney and many key City Council races. Our preferences, candidate questionnaires, and candidate summaries can be found in the online version of the voters’ directory.
Despite the abysmal voter turnout on September 15th, when only eleven percent of registered Democrats went to the polls, there were some notable results at the end of the day that highlight Citizens Union’s success in increasing electoral competition, as well as the need for further reform to improve elections in the city. Of fifty-one members in the City Council, at least twelve new members and quite possibly as many as fourteen will be sworn in at the beginning of the year. In addition, as a sign of growing competition in the city and perhaps some ramifications of the recent council vote to extend term limits, ten city council members were either defeated or won reelection with less than fifty percent of the vote.
This primary season, Citizens Union’s preferred candidates fared well on Election Day, where they won five of the eight primaries in City Council districts with an open race: Ydanis Rodriquez in Manhattan’s 10th, Kevin Kim in Queens’ 19th, Mark Weprin in Queens’ 23rd, James Van Bramer in Queens’ 26th, and Brad Lander in Brooklyn’s 39th. Our other three preferred candidates lost – S.J. Jung lost to Yen Chou in Queens’ 20th, Lynn Schulman lost to Karen Koslowitz in Queens’ 29th, and Evan Thies lost to Steve Levin in Brooklyn’s 33rd. In addition, CU’s preferred candidates won election in two of the six contests in which we opposed the incumbent: Danny Dromm over Helen Sears in Queens’ 25th and Jumaane Williams over Kendall Stewart in Brooklyn’s 45th. An additional incumbent that we opposed was defeated, but not by our preferred candidate – Margaret Chin won over incumbent Alan Gerson and CU preferred candidate PJ Kim in Manhattan’s 1st. In addition, incumbents that CU preferred who won included: Chris Quinn in Manhattan’s 3rd, Robert Jackson in Manhattan’s 7th, Inez Dickens in Manhattan’s 9th, Leroy Comrie in Queens 27th, Diana Reyna in Brooklyn’s 34th (please note this is a particularly close race that is likely to be challenged in court), Letitia James in Brooklyn’s 35th, and Al Vann in Brooklyn’s 36th. In the competitive Manhattan District Attorney race, Cyrus Vance beat CU’s preferred candidate Leslie Crocker Snyder.
In the citywide races, Bill Thompson, the CU preferred candidate, won the Democratic Primary Election for Mayor and will go on to face Mayor Michael Bloomberg in November. In addition, both CU preferred candidates for Comptroller and Public Advocate, John Liu and Bill de Blasio respectively, ended the night with the most votes. Each will go on to face the candidate with the second highest number of votes in a run-off Democratic primary election – Liu will face David Yassky and de Blasio will face Mark Green – which will be held on Tuesday, September 29, 2009. You can watch the run-off debate for Public Advocate on September 23rd and the run-off debate for Comptroller on Thursday, September 24th at 7 p.m. on NY1 or listen on WNYC radio.
For complete coverage of the election and results for all the races you can go to Gotham Gazette.
In a seven-way race to replace Councilmember David Yassky, who is currently running for New York City Comptroller, candidates from Council District 33 participated in a CU hosted debate held at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights. All of the candidates spoke about of the need for park space, development projects throughout the district, including along the waterfront, ways to close the city’s budget gap, congestion pricing, and ways to assist small businesses. In this crowded race, Stephen Levin won on Primary Election Day with thirty-four percent of the vote.
|First Mayoral Primary Debate for Democratic Candidates – August 26, 2009
NY1 Video | WNYC Audio
For over half a century, Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation have held their Annual Awards Dinner to honor leaders who have made significant contributions toward improving the civic life of the City of New York.
This year, former Mayor Ed Koch will receive CU’s Public Service Award for his many years of service to the City of New York. Former CU and CUF Board Chair Richard J. Davis will receive the Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Award, which is named in honor of CU’s former board chair who was a leading civic figure in his time. Peter J. Beshar, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Marsh & McLennan Companies and a former New York State Assistant Attorney General, will receive our Business Leadership Award. Lisa M. Quiroz, Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at Time Warner, which supports literacy and civic engagement among youth, will receive our Civic Leadership Award.
This year’s Dinner will take place on October 29th at The Pierre. Proceeds from the event support CU and CUF’s policy, research and public education work aimed at ensuring fair elections and promoting good government and political reform in New York City and New York State.
Bill Meehan has been active and dedicated member of Citizens Union’s Local Candidates Committee for eight years and recently joined the Municipal Affairs Committee. He not only makes himself available to participate in CU activities as much as possible, but also when evaluating candidates, he always takes the time to delve into their backgrounds and the issues in the district to make sure the committee is as knowledgeable as possible about all the candidates running for office.
Mr. Meehan’s interest in politics started early. “When I was nine, a great Democrat – Adlai Stevenson, ran for the Presidency. At that time, one of his ideas didn’t seem all that great to me – a half day of school on Saturdays. That led to my first involvement in politics; I handed out flyers for Eisenhower who wasn’t anxious to disturb my five day school week! Ever since, I have taken an intense interest in politics, and in how it affects our everyday lives. I got involved in Citizens Union because it offered an opportunity to engage in a dialogue centered on making New York a better place.”
Mr. Meehan recently retired as Assistant Vice President of Dime/WaMu. Prior to that he worked extensively in human resources, office staffing and personnel training. In the late 90s he served as Dean of IS55 on the New York City Board of Education. He is also a member of New Visions Democratic Club, a participant in the Municipal Art Society’s 2009 Livable Neighborhoods Program and a consultant for the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights. He has an M.A. in theology from Maryknoll Seminary, a B.D. from Capuchin Theological Seminary and a B.A. in philosophy from St. Anthony Seminary. Mr. Meehan also recently formed an ad hoc committee in his neighborhood of Jackson Heights – where there is a scarcity of greenspace – and successfully lobbied the New York State Department of Transportation to acquire a small piece of land under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to set up a dog run. He also volunteered with the successful primary campaign of Democrat Daniel Dromm in Council District 25.
“I have served on the Local Candidates Committee for a number of years and that has enabled me to meet with both incumbents and candidates for City and State offices to discuss the broader issues of reform as well as those pesky local issues of concern to nine and ninety year olds alike! Recently I have joined the Municipal Affairs Committee to study mayoral control of city schools, eminent domain, police governance and zoning revisions, areas of major importance to the City and its future. In Godspell one of the refrains is ‘We can build a beautiful City, yes we can!’ CU offers me a platform to participate in building that City.”
To read recent coverage of our work visit the In the News section of our website.