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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 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 political season is upon us with competition strong for all three statewide races – Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller – as well as control of the State Senate. Though there is a wide range of views on any number of issues and policies, there is almost unanimity that reform in Albany is not only needed, but necessary. More and more candidates are lining up in support of issues such as redistricting reform, ethics reform and campaign finance reform. After many years of pushing these issues, we seem poised to move on them once 2011 arrives and the new government is seated. New Yorkers are expecting change in the way they haven’t in years, and the next few weeks leading up to the election will determine whether their hopes may be realized and state government reform moves from being just talk to a reality.

Citizens Union will be evaluating the two ballot questions concerning the City Charter, the most notable involving term limits. We have spent a great deal of time and effort in defining how best city government could be changed to open up avenues to participation for its citizens and will continue our work in this regard in the years to come, using this defining and well received report that resulted as our guidebook.


State Updates

Redistricting Reform Campaign

Citizens Union is in the process of finalizing its campaign to end partisan gerrymandering, ReShapeNY, and will be reaching out to potential partners and stakeholders this fall to build a broad coalition of support for redistricting reform. As part of its efforts in this area, Citizens Union has made support of an independent redistricting commission a central tenet of its candidate evaluation process, asking candidates for state office for their support of the bill sponsored by Senator David Valesky and Assemblymember Michael Gianaris. In following up with the candidates during the 2011 legislative session, Citizens Union will ask legislators who indicated support of the reform to seek its successful passage, by voting in favor of it, signing on as co-sponsors, and ending the old system of partisan gerrymandering as conducted by the NYS Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR).

We also want to draw your attention to a four part series on redistricting reform that is taking place this week in the evenings on NY1 during Inside City Hall, and on the news loop. Dick Dadey was interviewed in the first segment which aired on Monday and is available on the NY1 website.


Prison-Based Gerrymandering Reform

As part of the protracted state budget negotiations this summer, a bill was passed that ends the process of counting prisoners in their place of incarceration for redistricting purposes. This reform was  supported by Citizens Union , as it ensures that communities are equally represented by removing artificial population centers created by prisons. This change will have an impact on the 2012 redistricting process, as seven upstate senate districts currently rely on prison populations to meet size requirements.


City Updates

City Charter Revision Commission Update

Despite the efforts of Citizens Union in advocating that the City Charter Revision Commission take on more issues than they presented in their initial report, no new proposals were added to those that will be on the ballot this November but for one related to the fair share of facilities siting. The Commission did, however, discuss many of the fifty proposals advanced by Citizens Union in its   June report  in the Commission’s final report, which lays the groundwork for future Commissions to explore these issues in greater detail.

Citizens Union was disappointed that a major issue – that of opening up elections to a greater number of voters through a top-two election system – did not receive the opportunity to be fully considered and discussed, but CU will find opportunities in the future to further advance this needed election reform.

Of the questions on the ballot this November, the first is related to term limits. It asks the voters if the City should return to two four-year term limits for citywide elected officials, borough presidents, and City Council members. The proposal would go into effect at or after the 2010 election so it would not affect incumbents. Additionally, this question would prevent the City Council from changing terms limits, as was done in 2008. Future changes to term limits would be disallowed from affecting elected city officials currently serving in office.

The second question is a catch-all question that covers a variety of topics ranging from election and campaign finance reform to streamlining city administrative tribunals and reporting requirements. Citizens Union supported some of the proposals in this second question in its report to the Commission,  Increasing Avenues for Participation in Government and Elections in New York City , namely those proposals regarding the disclosure of independent expenditures, increasing ballot access, merging the Voter Assistance Commission into the Campaign Finance Board, and the City’s facilities siting map.

Citizens Union will be indicating its position on both questions in its General Election Voters Directory.


Election Updates

Local Candidates Committee Activities

In its 100th year of evaluating candidates, Citizens Union evaluated 26 races during the primary election season through its Local Candidates Committee, conducting over 50 candidate interviews between June and August. Citizens Union supported Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General in the Democratic primary, Rick Lazio on the Republican ticket for Governor, while preferring just 6 incumbents in the 24 state legislative races the organization evaluated. You can see a listing of all our preferences on our website in addition to narratives about the candidates we interviewed. While Pedro Espada was the only NYC incumbent to lose his seat, Citizens Union did back his opponent Gustavo Rivera, as well as six reform-minded incumbents and four candidates who won open seats.

Of the 19 candidates Citizens Union supported, 12 won their election, all of whom support broad political reform, including redistricting.


Evaluating the New Voting Process

Primary Day turned out to be a challenging day for voters and the Board of Elections alike in adjusting to the new voting machines which made their debut. Anecdotal reports of poll sites being unprepared to open at 6:00 am, machines breaking down, and voter privacy being compromised led Mayor Bloomberg to condemn the City Board for a “royal screw-up.” Citizens Union had forewarned such difficulties may occur in  testimony to the City Council  one week prior, noting the Board’s archaic bipartisan structure that resulted in the vacancy of its Executive Director for six months just before it embarked on the most dramatic change to voting in 50 years. CU also provided  important information to its members  about the new machines in its Voters Directory, and held a voting machine demonstration in partnership with the City Board of Elections.

Citizens Union has  testified to the State Senate Elections Committee, as well as provided  testimony to the Voter Assitance Commission    regarding the experience of the September 14th Primary Election, and will be making recommendations for how to improve the process for the November General Election. The City Council is hosting a hearing next week, which CU will also participate in.


Gotham Gazette Highlights

Between now and November 2nd Gotham Gazette will be providing its hallmark substantive coverage of this year’s election. Who’s Running for What lists all the candidates for congressional and legislative seats in the City, along with basic information, the primary results and links to coverage elsewhere. Stay tuned to Gotham Gazette for more coverage as the campaign continues.

We are also pleased to announce that Gotham Gazette has been named a finalist for the 2010 Online Journalism Award for general excellence in its circulation category. Gotham Gazette won this award — a kind of Pulitzer Prize for online journalism — last year. This year’s winners will be announced at the end of October.

Gotham Gazette will also soon unveil a new site focusing on money and politics. Check the site to learn more — and to help us track who gives money to which city candidates.

Also in Gotham Gazette:

City Schools Gamble on Going Digital

The City is betting on technology to fundamentally change education and prepare kids for today’s world. Our in-depth report looked at the promise and the pitfalls.

The Battle Against Bullying

It doesn’t address cyberspace and won’t take effect for two years, but supporters say the Dignity for Students Act signed by the Governor will save kids from insults and attacks.

Another Natural Gas Controversy

Forget fracking for now. What worries many New Yorkers is a proposed natural gas pipeline beneath Manhattan and Staten Island.

Moonlighting on the Council

City Council members receive a base salary of $112,000, but many still find time to earn outside income. An accompanying chart lists who made what.



CU Annual Awards Dinner

Every year, just before Election Day, Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation hold their Annual Awards Dinner to honor leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to improving the civic life of New York City.

This year, we will honor former Mayor David Dinkins with CU’s Public Service Award for his many years of service to the City of New York. Lisa Caputo, Executive Vice President and Global Chief Marketing Officer and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Citi’s Women & Co, will receive our Business Leadership Award. Our Civic Leadership Award will be presented to Randy M. Mastro, Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and former Deputy Mayor under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. And St. Francis College Chancellor Frank Macchiarola, whose leadership in areas of city charter revision and state education reform parallel CU’s own reform goals, will receive the Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Award.

Join us on October 28th at The Pierre and help support our policy, research and public education work. For reservations, sponsorship opportunities and more information, please contact Kristine Bruch at 212-228-7446 x15 or [email protected]. You may also purchase tickets or make a contribution online.


State Comptroller Candidates Debate

Citizens Union, in partnership with NY1, will be hosting a debate of the candidates running in the general election for State Comptroller, incumbent Tom DiNapoli (D, WF) and Harry Wilson (R, C).

The debate will take place on Monday, October 4th, from 7-8pm, with seating required by 6:30 pm. The location is the Schimmel Theater at PACE University, 3 Spruce Street in Manhattan. If you are interested in attending, you can RSVP to 212- 227-0342 ext. 47 or [email protected].

If you are unable to attend in person, the event will be televised live on NY1, NY1 Noticias and YNN. Citizens Union will be represented among the panelists asking questions of the candidates on issues related to the pension fund, the state budget and reform of the office.


Voting Machine Demostration

Citizens Union on September 10th held a voting machine demonstration in partnership with the Board of Elections in the City of New York at St. Francis College. Over 50 participants learned about the new voting system that was first employed during the Primary Election by filling out sample ballots and practicing using the new machines, including the Ballot Marking Device (BMD) which assists voters in filling out a paper ballot, and the optical scan machine, which scans and counts all completed ballots. More information about the new voting process is available in CU’s Voters Directory, as well as on the Board of Election’s website,

The City Board of Elections is holding further voting machine demos throughout the City this fall, so you can check their calendar for an event near you.


Who is Citizens Union?

Vera Willensky

If it had been just a few months later, Vera Willensky’s family might not have made it to the U.S. from France in September of 1941. Born in France to Russian emigrant parents, Vera accompanied them as they fled the war in Europe, a journey that included an 8-month wait in Africa before they were given clearance to come to America– just a few months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into the conflict.

She was six when she arrived in Connecticut. One of her earliest memories is of her first ever Halloween and an unfamiliar custom known as “trick or treat” where she was dressed up as a pumpkin and sent around to ask her neighbors for candy. She liked this new holiday a lot! A few months later she was living on 141st Street and Riverside Drive. Except for a brief stint in the Bronx, and college at Cornell in Ithaca, she has lived in Manhattan ever since.

Vera came to Citizens Union as a volunteer in 2002 after leaving her longtime job with a freight forwarding company that worked for the U.S. military. She works at CU four days a week, managing volunteer and intern applications, assisting with job postings, collecting resumes, doing research and helping with whatever urgent task may come up.

“Citizens Union is important because it is getting at what’s going wrong in our little world,” said Vera, “such as the mess in Albany. We’re doing something to change things for the better. Getting involved is the best part of being here.”


Citizens Union In the News

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


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