Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/102 Sun, 17 Feb 2019 03:49:38 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Council Seeks Expanded Power, Sweeping Change in Recommendations to Charter Revision Commission http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8249-city-council-seeks-expanded-power-sweeping-change-in-recommendations-to-charter-revision-commission http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8249-city-council-seeks-expanded-power-sweeping-change-in-recommendations-to-charter-revision-commission johnson council

(Photo: John McCarten/City Council)


The New York City Council wants a voice in picking the commissioner of the NYPD, more independence for ethics and oversight agencies, and greater power over the city budget.

Those are among the recommendations that the City Council made in a new report to the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, seeking amendments to the city’s governing document that would broadly strengthen the powers of non-mayoral elected officials and require changes to how the city budgets, decides land use changes, and plans for the future.

The 2019 commission was created last year through legislation passed by the Council and spearheaded by then-Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Its members are appointed by a variety of public officials, including the mayor, comptroller, borough presidents, and City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, who also appointed the chair.

A separate commission, conducting its work in 2018, had previously been appointed by the mayor and put three questions on the November ballot that were overwhelmingly approved.

On Thursday evening, the Council-created commission finalized a list of focus areas that will be the subject of several public hearings in the next few months before its final report is due in September. Ultimately, its recommendations will be on the ballot for voters to approve or disapprove this November.

The City Council’s 37-page report to the commission details several recommendations in key areas on the balance of power in government, voting processes, police oversight, city budgeting and contracting, and land use and planning policy. The report is authored by Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Council Member Fernando Cabrera, who chairs the Council's government operations committee, and Brad Lander, the deputy leader for policy.

“It’s been almost 30 years since the last comprehensive Charter Commission and based on the public participation in the 2019 Commission’s process, it is clearly time for change,” Johnson said in a statement. “In formulating the Council’s proposals, we took into consideration all of the public testimony given as well as Council Member input, and we are confident that our recommendations will improve the way our City is governed and make life better for New Yorkers.”

Balance of Power
The report proposes requiring advice and consent powers for the City Council in appointing the city’s corporation counsel, the NYPD commissioner, City Planning Commission chair, the chief administrative law judge and the executive directors of the Campaign Finance Board and Conflicts of Interest Board (none of these positions are currently subject to Council approval). It also proposes implementing three-year terms for each of those positions.

It also proposes requiring the City Council’s approval before the mayor can remove the commissioner of the Department of Investigation, currently the one department commissioner the Council must approve after mayoral nomination. That proposal may be a response to the controversy involving the termination of former DOI Commissioner Mark Peters, who had been a thorn in the side of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. Though Peters was removed for overstepping his authority, Council members at the time raised concerns about the agency head’s ability to stay independent and investigate the very mayor who appoints them without worrying about retaliation.

The Council also recommends giving the City Council, the public advocate, and the comptroller one appointment each on the Conflicts of Interest Board, which is currently made up entirely of members appointed by the mayor. “No single elected officer should be solely responsible for the appointment of COIB and by dividing the appointments between all the branches of City government, COIB can more effectively meet the goals of its mission,” the report reads.

Other recommendations include giving the Council a direct appointment to the city’s Art Commission and changing the structure of the Landmarks Preservation Commission

A few of the proposals would also increase the authority of other elected officials, including the public advocate, an office with a small budget and limited powers but a strong bully pulpit. The Council proposes allowing the public advocate to direct DOI to conduct investigations and giving the office an appointment at the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which probes NYPD officer misconduct. The report also recommends independent budgets for the public advocate and comptroller — the two offices would be able to submit their own budget proposals into the mayor’s executive budget — and guaranteed “non-negotiable” budgets for borough presidents and community boards based on a percentage of an existing, related budget.

Voting and Elections
The upcoming special election for public advocate on February 26, with 17 candidates on the ballot, illustrates cause for some of the issues that the Council’s report addresses, it says. It advocates for establishing ranked-choice voting, also known as instant runoff voting, in all primary and special elections. Without ranked choice -- which allows voters to pick their preferences by ranking and distributes second-rank votes if no candidate initially meets the required vote threshold -- a candidate in a crowded special election could win with a small total vote and percentage of the ballots cast.

The report also notes that establishing ranked-choice voting would eliminate the need for costly primary and general elections that are held after a special election -- for instance, the winner of the public advocate special will have to defend their seat later this year. The report recommends doing away with those contests since ranked-choice would ensure that a candidate with deep support is elected to the seat and serves the remainder of a term.

Police Oversight
The Council recommends giving the public advocate the power to appoint one member of the CCRB, reducing one of the mayor’s appointments, and also proposes that the agency’s chair be chosen jointly by the mayor and the Council.

It also pushes for putting into law the CCRB’s Administrative Prosecution Unit, which conducts civil trials for officers accused of severe misconduct. The APU was created in 2012 through a memorandum of understanding between the NYPD and the CCRB, which the report points out could be revoked by the police commissioner, threatening the independence of the oversight agency.

The Council also proposed strengthening the CCRB in other ways, tying the agency’s budget to the NYPD’s, giving it subpoena power, and establishing a time-bound process for the NYPD to respond to the agency’s disciplinary recommendations.

Budgeting and Contracting
One of the more prominent roles of the City Council is its power to approve the city’s annual budget in negotiation with the mayor. For years, Council members have cried foul about the imbalance in those negotiations and the “budget dance” -- purposefully underfunding an item in initial proposals only to fully fund it later on, knowing all along the plan is to do so -- that mayors past and present have used as leverage.

In his first year as Council speaker, Johnson pointed to the imbalance and put forth a new focus on the city’s capital budget and made the level of rainy day funds put away each year a priority. The Council would put new related measures into the charter.

Among other things, the report proposes requiring the mayor to submit revenue estimates at a fixed date in the budget process, allowing the Council to estimate how much the city should be spending, and calls for increased transparency in the expense budget, particularly by tying spending to performance measures.

It also proposes limits on the mayor’s control over appropriated funds, and more efficiency and transparency in the long-term capital planning process.

Perhaps the biggest budgetary change the report recommends is the creation of an explicit Rainy Day Fund, which is currently prohibited by a law in place till 2033. The Council recommends establishing the fund in the charter as well as seeking state authorization for it.

On city contracting, the report recommends several improvements including setting time limits for specific processes, such as requiring that oversight agencies review contracts within 30 days (the same limit applied to the Comptroller’s office), and involving the comptroller’s office at an earlier stage.

Land Use and City Planning
The report advances several suggestions for making the city’s land use process “more equitable and rational,” chiefly by requiring a comprehensive plan for the city every ten years, created with community feedback, to inform policies on land use and infrastructure.

The Council also seeks to enhance the “fair share” system which determines how municipal facilities and infrastructure is sited across the city. The current “fair share” guidelines have often been criticized as inadequate and have not prevented the concentration of undesirable facilities, often in low-income communities of color. The Council’s report proposes changing those guidelines into binding rules to be followed and updated regularly along with other improvements to the siting process.

The Council is also attempting to wield more power over land use applications, giving them the ability to modify city-sponsored land use project during the approval process.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Council Seeks Expanded Power, Sweeping Change in Recommendations to Charter Revision Commission Thu, 31 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
2019 Charter Revision Commission Announces Four Focus Areas http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8248-2019-charter-revision-commission-announces-focus-areas http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8248-2019-charter-revision-commission-announces-focus-areas spequinn city council 2012

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


The 2019 Charter Revision Commission on Thursday officially decided on the issues it would explore and evaluate going forward, settling on four overarching areas of consideration and several specific policy recommendations within each bucket.

The commission, which was empaneled through City Council legislation, features appointees from various elected officials and the Council, and first met in July of last year, is working on a longer timetable than that of last year’s mayor-empaneled commission, and is taking a broader look at the city’s central governing document. Its recommendations will be put on the November 2019 ballot as referenda.

The four topic areas of focus over the next several months will be elections, governance, finance, and land use, and the proposed policies that the commission will study were drawn from over 600 submissions from the public.

The commission made clear that the proposals are not what will appear on the ballot, but rather the specific policy ideas that it will further study as it decides what to put before voters for yes or no selections.

“A vote now is a vote to explore further,” said Gail Benjamin, the chair of the commission and the former head of the City Council’s land use division.

The elections bucket includes ranked-choice voting (otherwise known as instant-runoff voting), elimination of “duplicative primary elections,” appointments to the redistricting commission and how Council District maps are drawn, the appointment structure at the Campaign Finance Board, and potential alternative campaign finance systems like a “democracy voucher” system.

Former Council Member Sal Albanese proposed that the commission add nonpartisan elections, arguing that the structure of New York’s elections silences the votes of independents. The proposal was shot down by other members, particularly 32BJ Vice President Alison Hirsh, who claimed that nonpartisan elections depress turnout by eliminating a prominent marker for a candidate’s positions, and that voters had rejected nonpartisan elections in a previous referendum.

The governance bucket, which some commissioners argued was too broad of a category, consists of allowing the Council advice and consent powers on certain mayoral appointees; evaluating the power, roles, and structures of the borough presidents, public advocate, corporation counsel, Civilian Complaint Review Board, Conflicts of Interest Board, and Board of Statutory Consolidation; lobbying by former public officials; and police disciplinary practices.

Hirsh suggested that the commission add consideration of a Chief Diversity Officer in the Mayor’s Office and in every city agency, noting that only seven agencies currently have one and recent Council legislation creating one in the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to oversee diversity in hiring at agencies. The commission approved the amendment, which echoes a call from Comptroller Scott Stringer for such officers.

In the finance realm, the commission decided to study the issues of more detailed units of appropriation in the city budget, making the capital budget correspond to “discrete projects,” a “comprehensive city planning framework” for capital budgeting and land use, independent budgeting for certain agencies and offices, the management of public pensions, and evaluating procurement and contract registration processes and policies.

The final bucket, land use, consists of the comprehensive planning framework that overlaps with finance, evaluating the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), including the possibility of a public pre-ULURP process, and evaluating the four land use boards: the City Planning Commission, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Board of Standards and Appeals, and the Franchise and Concession Review Committee. The consideration of the LPC was added as an amendment by Commissioner James Caras.

Going forward, the commission will conduct research on the proposed policies, as well as further public hearings. Its final report and ballot measure recommendations will be due in early September and in order to appear on the November ballot, but there will be other steps in between.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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2019 Charter Revision Commission Announces Four Focus Areas Thu, 31 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Next Steps for 3 City Charter Revisions Passed Election Day http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8073-next-steps-for-3-city-charter-revisions-passed-election-day http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8073-next-steps-for-3-city-charter-revisions-passed-election-day schools chancellor reg

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

Voters approved three ballot proposals on Election Day to amend the New York City charter, the city’s foundational governing document -- the local constitution. The proposals related to the city’s campaign finance system, civic engagement, and community boards. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who empaneled a charter revision commission last year that put the proposals on the ballot, argued that the proposals would strengthen democracy in the city.

“The question in front of voters was simple: Are we going to be a city that works for everyone,” de Blasio tweeted after the measures passed. “New Yorkers answered with a resounding ‘YES, YES, YES!’”

Now that all three proposals are to be added to the charter, they will have to be implemented within the next few years. At the same time, another charter revision commission created through City Council legislation is also holding public hearings and is expected issue its own recommendations for the 2019 general election ballot.

Each of the three proposals approved this year included language around implementation, though some aspects will be left to certain individual and group decision-makers.

Proposal 1 - campaign finance reform
Proposal 1, which lowers campaign contribution limits in city elections and enhances the city’s public-matching campaign finance program, passed with 80.3 percent approval.

New York City’s voluntary public matching funds program, often seen as a model for the country, currently matches the first $175 of each campaign contribution at a ratio of 6-to-1. Proposal 1 raises the public match to 8-to-1 for the first $250 of a donation, thus increasing the impact of smaller donations, and will lower individual contribution limits to citywide candidates from $5,100 to $2,000, with lower offices like borough presidents and City Council members also seeing public match increases and lower contribution limits.

The goal is to empower small-dollar donors, giving their contributions a greater impact and disincentivizing candidates from depending on larger, wealthier donors and PACs. In theory, it allows first-time candidates not backed by deep-pocketed donors to run more competitive races.

The percentage of a candidate’s overall spending limit that can be received in public funds will be increased from 55 percent to 75 percent, and candidates will be allowed to receive public funds earlier in their races -- a change that could help insurgent candidates or candidates without deep-pocketed allies, but also could help incumbents rack up higher totals earlier.

Under the text of the amendment, the new campaign finance regulations will take effect on January 12, 2019. But, candidates who choose to participate in the public funds program and run for office in the 2021 primary elections can choose to opt out of the new rules, thus sticking with the current limits and system. Candidates must declare their intentions by July 15, 2019.

For non-participating candidates, meaning those who opt not to participate in the matching program, the limits and thresholds remain the same as they were before January 12.

All candidates participating in the public matching program will be brought under the new regulations starting in 2022.

The language of the amendment also includes a clawback provision should any of the changes to contribution limits and matching fund ratios be struck down in court. In such an instance, all the changes would be nullified except for the expansion of the public matching funds cap from 55 percent to 75 percent.

In all, the charter commission estimated that the new system would increase the amount of public funds disbursed to candidates by roughly 47 percent relative to the very busy 2013 city election cycle, which will in many ways be mirrored for 2021. In the 2013 cycle, the Campaign Finance Board doled out $38 million in public funds. Under the new rules, disbursements would have been an additional $18 million, for a total of $56 million, according to the charter commission’s staff research.

In last year’s elections, when there were fewer competitive races, the CFB gave out about $18 million in public funds, which would have seen an additional $8.5 million in public funds under the amended charter.

City Council Member Ben Kallos, who unsuccessfully attempted to increase the public funds cap to 85 percent through legislation, was glad to see voters pass the improvements to the system. In a phone interview, he implied that concerns about the cost of the new system were overblown, and said that enhancing the system is key to eliminating real and perceived conflicts of interest.

“It’s far less than the city lost on Rivington, and whether it was a case of actual corruption or just appeared improper, it had significant cost to our city,” Kallos said, referring to the scandal around the city’s sale of Rivington House and related allegations of pay-to-play involving the mayor. “Just the defense of our city cost about $6 million,” he added in reference to the mayor’s legal bills accrued during law enforcement investigations of his fundraising that saw no charges filed. “So whether it is to save $100 million around Rivington or the $6 million in legal fees, it pays for itself.”

He continued, “When the next mayor’s going to have a budget in excess of $90 billion, [$18 million] to make sure that that elected official would only be accountable to the voters without the influence of big money is worth every penny.”

Gotham Gazette: Proposal 2 - civic engagement commission
Proposal 2, which creates a civic engagement commission tasked with implementing a citywide participatory budgeting program and other initiatives, passed with 65.5 percent approval.

The new citywide participatory budgeting program, expanding efforts undertaken annually in City Council districts (currently in 31 of the 51 CDs), would have to be implemented by the commission by July 1, 2020. Participatory budgeting allows residents to vote on projects to spend a certain amount of funds in their Council districts.

The commission will also be tasked with improving translation services at voting sites and providing resources to community boards, as well as more generalized partnerships with community organizations to increase civic engagement.

The commission would remain a fixture after implementing its designated programs, and would be required to report annually on its programs, many of which can be by its own design.

The commission will consist of 15 members: 8 appointed by the Mayor, 2 by the City Council Speaker, and 1 by each Borough President. The mayor’s majority of board picks worried some that it would be a power-grab of sorts, given the wide latitude afforded to the commission with its mission of “enhancing civic engagement and strengthening democracy.” But in that respect, it is actually something of an improvement from the proposed Office of Civic Engagement, which would be completely under the mayor, per a bill introduced by City Council Member Brad Lander, who supported proposal 2 and celebrated its passage.

The commission will be empaneled on April 1, 2019.

Proposal 3 - community board reform
Proposal 3, which establishes term limits for community board members and institutes a set of new requirements around the community board application process and more, passed with 72.3 percent approval.

Community board members, who are appointed by Borough Presidents and currently allowed to serve an unlimited number of two-year terms, will now be allowed only to serve four consecutive two-year terms. At that point, members will be term-limited out, but they will be allowed to be reappointed after a two-year interregnum. Current community board members will be allowed to serve an additional four terms no matter how long they have served as of 2019. Thus, no current member will be term-limited off their board until 2027.

To prevent heavy turnover that year and the following year, appointees commencing their term in 2020 will be allowed to serve five terms.

Borough Presidents will also be required to seek out diverse candidates for community board appointments, ensuring that different geographic areas are adequately represented. The proposal mandates that borough president reach out to community organizations active in the district and also allows civic groups and neighborhood organization to submit nominees to the Borough President. Community boards as constituted today are often criticized for being older and whiter than the communities they serve. Younger and more diverse voices on community boards could lead to very different outcomes. Borough presidents will also be required to make applications for community board member positions available on their websites with detailed requests for information about members, including work and community experience, demographic information (which would be optional) and conflicts of interest disclosures, among other things.

While community boards do not have a binding vote on land use and development matters, local City Council members often strongly consider and align with their home community boards. Four of the city's five current Borough Presidents expressed strong opposition to proposals 2 and 3 (Brooklyn's Eric Adams was the lone exception) and worked unsuccessfully to defeat them.

The civic engagement commission approved in proposal 2 will also be required to provide additional resources to community boards, such as “urban planning professionals and language access resources.”

Though it received a higher vote share than proposal 2, proposal 3 was widely seen as the most controversial of the three during the election season. While proponents noted that community boards are often older and whiter than the communities they represent, opponents said the measure would lead to a brain drain to the benefit of real estate developers. The worry was that an influx of new members without land use knowledge would allow developers to run roughshod over community interests. In the end, voters took the side of the proponents.

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Brachfeld contributed to this piece.

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Next Steps for 3 City Charter Revisions Passed Election Day Sun, 02 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
With Nod from De Blasio and Push from Johnson, Momentum for Ranked-Choice Voting in New York City http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8062-with-nod-from-de-blasio-and-push-from-johnson-momentum-for-ranked-choice-voting-in-new-york-city http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8062-with-nod-from-de-blasio-and-push-from-johnson-momentum-for-ranked-choice-voting-in-new-york-city bdb at voting machine

(photo: Gotham Gazette)


With all three of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision proposals approved by voters by wide margins on Tuesday, eyes are now on the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, empaneled by the City Council and other officials, which will, in some respects, pick up where the 2018 commission left off, possibly considering issues that the mayor’s commission did not act on.

Key among those is ranked-choice voting (also known as instant runoff voting), an alternative method of voting wherein voters rank their candidate preferences rather than simply voting for one. For whichever races it is applied to, if no candidate wins the required percentage of the vote on initial count, the last place candidate is eliminated, and the second preference of the eliminated candidate’s voters receives those votes. This continues until one candidate secures the required percentage, often set at 50 percent.

As of now, New York City only holds runoffs for citywide positions -- mayor, public advocate, comptroller -- and if no candidate receives 40 percent of the vote. Mayor Bill de Blasio narrowly avoided a runoff in the 2013 Democratic primary for mayor, but there was one that year for public advocate.

That runoff, in the Democratic primary between eventual winner Letitia James and Daniel Squadron, led to heightened calls for ranked-choice voting, especially given the high cost of the runoff relative to the budget of the public advocate’s office.

Increasing support from elected officials and among the public led to ranked-choice voting being considered and discussed by the 2018 charter commission; in its final report, the commission said that it had received a “considerable volume of public comment about ranked choice voting.” In the end, the commission demurred on ranked-choice, arguing that more research and time were required and recommending that a future commission tackle the issue.

It may not take long; that commission may well end up being the 2019 commission, which has already met six times, twice in Manhattan and once each in the other boroughs, and has a much longer timeline on which to tackle issues. It is expected to continue deliberations, solicit online feedback, and hold hearings and meetings throughout the first half of next year, with its ballot proposals likely due by early September.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who got to name several commissioner including the chair, Gail Benjamin, testified at a recent hearing in favor of ranked-choice voting, urging the commission to look into it. De Blasio, meanwhile, singled out ranked-choice voting when asked by Gotham Gazette at a press availability what he would like the 2019 commission to tackle, though he did not endorse the idea outright.

“There was a very vibrant discussion in this charter revision commission, for example, about ranked-choice voting,” the mayor said. “For me, the jury’s still out on ranked-choice voting. I grew up with it in Massachusetts. I think it has strengths and I think it has weaknesses. And I’d sure like to see a lot more research on it. But there’s a lot of people who believe it might be very beneficial in New York City.”

Despite not taking an affirmative stance on the issue, de Blasio’s answer is a signal of his evolving position on ranked-choice, according to Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a good government group that supports ranked-choice voting.

“I think it’s significant,” Camarda said. “I think what’s telling is we’ve now seen, in the last few months, the mayor last week and the Council speaker at the Manhattan charter revision commission hearing, both called on the commission to consider instant runoff voting, and ‘here are the different arguments for it.’ And I think that’s a signal to the commission that they should seriously look at this.”

“I think there’s a new openness to it on their parts that at least wasn’t public in the past,” he continued. “De Blasio in 2013 went on The Brian Lehrer Show and actually took a position against IRV, and said at the time that the starkness of two candidates in the runoff, he thought was clarifying for voters. So clearly, his position seems to have evolved.”

Aside from good government groups, which almost uniformly support it, ranked choice also has the support of other prominent city elected officials: along with Johnson, support comes from Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate James, who was elected State Attorney General on Tuesday and in May called herself “the face of instant runoff” given her 2013 race. City Council Member Brad Lander has sponsored a bill to implement "instant run-off voting" (James is a co-sponsor) in the Council.

"As the upcoming Public Advocate race shows, Ranked Choice Voting is an idea whose time has come for New York City," Lander said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "Stronger majority support, better outreach to diverse communities, less negative campaigning, and it even saves money. What's not to like?"

Advocates, including those in New York, note that ranked-choice both makes third parties more viable (by limiting the need for “strategic voting”) and forces candidates to appeal beyond their base, in the hope of attracting voters as second preference. Ranked-choice would also allow city elections to avoid costly, low-turnout runoff elections when no candidate secures the required threshold of votes.

“We think that enabling voters to rank candidates creates an environment where there's more substantive policy debate, and there’s less negativity in campaigning, because candidates have to appeal to second choice and even third choice votes,” Camarda said.

In 2013, the runoff between James and Squadron was estimated to cost about $13 million, for a position with a $2 million budget, in an election with 6.5% turnout. In a report released the following year, the city’s Campaign Finance Board recommended that New York City adopt ranked-choice voting for municipal elections.

Advocates also claim that ranked-choice increases turnout, though studies have been conflicting on the matter. Some have charged that it can be confusing to voters, decreasing turnout and the diversity of the electorate. Turnout in San Francisco, the largest American city using ranked-choice, has been generally depressed since the implementation of ranked-choice, while in Minneapolis, the results have been far more promising.

Ranked choice has taken a higher political profile after Maine voters adopted the system by referendum in 2016, after a string of gubernatorial elections going back to 2002 where no candidate received a majority of the vote. The measure survived several legal and legislative challenges and was used in this year’s midterm elections; the Democratic gubernatorial candidate won an outright majority, but the race in the 2nd Congressional District is currently being decided by instant runoff.

Along with San Francisco and Minneapolis, ranked-choice is used in cities such as Oakland and Memphis, where voters approved ranked-choice in 2008 but it has not yet been implemented. On Tuesday, voters in that city rejected a ballot proposal to abandon ranked-choice, and it will be used in 2019. And de Blasio’s hometown of Cambridge has used ranked-choice since the 1940s; Cambridge’s system is a unique hybrid of ranked-choice and proportional representation.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

This story has been updated.

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With Nod from De Blasio and Push from Johnson, Momentum for Ranked-Choice Voting in New York City Thu, 08 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Flip Your Ballot, Vote Yes on 2 for Democracy http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8048-flip-your-ballot-vote-yes-on-2-for-democracy http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8048-flip-your-ballot-vote-yes-on-2-for-democracy participatory budgeting

(photo: @pb_nyc)


On Election Day -- Tuesday, November 6 -- New Yorkers have a unique opportunity to vote for democracy. By voting “yes” on three ballot proposals, we can turn New York City into a beacon for democracy.

The ballot proposals will make it easier for ordinary New Yorkers to run for office, vote in elections, have a say in city decisions, and serve on community boards. They will make our government better and our voices stronger.

Proposal 2 is especially powerful. It will create a Civic Engagement Commission, dedicated to building a more participatory democracy, one that extends beyond any election day. By investing in civic engagement, we can create space for millions of residents to get more involved, step up as leaders, and help make decisions.

The Commission would create a citywide participatory budgeting (PB) program, giving New Yorkers a greater say in how our how tax dollars are spent. Through PB, residents brainstorm spending ideas, turn these ideas into proposals for a ballot, and then vote to decide which proposals get funded.

In New York City Council’s PB program, 100,000 people have decided how to spend around $40 million per year. Residents - including non-citizens and people as young as 11 years old - have developed and approved hundreds of improvements to public schools, parks, streets, libraries, hospitals, and housing. Voters have been more representative of the city than in local elections, with low-income people, women, and people of color participating at higher rates.

This engagement has broad and long-lasting impacts on our democracy. Years of PB proposals for school air conditioning and bathroom repairs sparked city-wide campaigns, which won $180 million to install air conditioning and fix bathrooms at schools across the city. PB has turned hundreds of residents into community leaders, boosting their civic skills and knowledge. It even increases electoral turnout, making people 7% more likely to vote in other elections.

The charter revision would build on this success, allowing more people to make bigger decisions. Other global leaders in democracy, such as Paris and Madrid, have successfully launched similar programs. In Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has committed 500 million Euros for residents to allocate - for school, district, and citywide projects. In Madrid, the city launched citywide PB and an office of participation, and 400,000 people have gotten involved (in a city not much bigger than Brooklyn).

In New York, PB voters consistently tell us that they want to make bigger decisions. City Council members and their staff tell us that they need more resources and support to engage their communities. Proposal 2 will do both.

The Civic Engagement Commission will be an opportunity for us all to shape the city’s future. While city agencies typically only report to the Mayor, in this case the Mayor, City Council Speaker, and Borough Presidents will each appoint Commission members. The ballot proposal also requires the Commission to partner with community organizations. The Commission will not be perfect (what institution is?), but it will make our city better, by inviting neighbors to decide how their tax dollars are spent and providing more staff support and resources for civic engagement.

If we want to fix our democracy, we need to expand how people can participate. Vote yes on November 6 to show your support for our democracy.

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Josh Lerner is Co-Executive Director of the Participatory Budgeting Project, a national nonprofit that empowers people to decide together how to spend public money. Carlos Menchaca is a New York City Council member representing District 38 in Brooklyn. On Twitter @joshalerner & @cmenchaca. (For more information, visit yesyesyesnyc.com and participatorybudgeting.org)

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Flip Your Ballot, Vote Yes on 2 for Democracy Sun, 04 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Vote Yes Three Times to Improve New York City Democracy http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8052-vote-yes-three-times-to-improve-new-york-city-democracy http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8052-vote-yes-three-times-to-improve-new-york-city-democracy three voting booths

(photo: Mayor's Office)


A political awakening is sweeping New York City. Voter turnout during the last election spiked nearly 300 percent. More New Yorkers are speaking out and looking to engage in the civic life and democracy of their city.

Earlier this year, hundreds of New Yorkers, many of them everyday people who gave up their personal time to attend a public hearing, voiced their concerns to a New York City Charter Revision Commission appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio traveling the five boroughs. The Charter Commission boiled down hundreds of hours of public testimony into three proposals that will be on the back of Election Day ballots, each in the form of a yes/no question.

Voting "yes" on all three proposals will give New Yorkers new opportunities to channel their rising political energy and hopes for a more diverse and representative government. 

A "yes" vote on Question 1 will empower everyday New Yorkers by amplifying their voices in political campaigns for local office. New Yorkers making contributions to candidates will have their small donations matched with $8 in public funds for every $1 donated. A $10 contribution will grow to $90; a $100 donation multiplied to $900. And, the influence of big money will be further slashed by reducing the maximum individual contribution by a third. This proposal will also enable more New Yorkers to run for office themselves by raising small donations from their friends and neighbors. A "yes" vote on Question 1 is backed by Reinvent Albany and the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), among others.

On Question 2, a "yes" vote will enable all New Yorkers to vote directly on a slice of the city’s budget to beautify a local park, make a pedestrian crossing safer, or any number of other ideas that come from local communities. A Commission would be created to organize and connect New Yorkers to volunteer opportunities in government and the private sector, among other responsibilities to foster civic engagement and make the city better. This proposal is strongly supported by leaders in the worldwide Participatory Budgeting movement, which this proposal will expand.

A "yes" vote on Question 3 will open up opportunities for more New Yorkers to serve on community boards. Community boards provide advice on local land use, neighborhood quality of life issues, and the city budget, and serve as the level of government closest to the people. Yet, according to community board and census data, many boards consist of members who have served for decades, and do not reflect the diverse makeup and viewpoints of their neighborhoods.

By requiring community board members step down from their positions for two years after serving eight years, everybody in the community will have an opportunity to participate and have their voices heard. This proposal is strongly supported by citywide, grassroots groups like Transportation Alternatives that have decades of experience working with community boards.

A yes, yes, yes vote on the three ballot proposals will collectively harness the heightened activism of New Yorkers as robust participants in their democracy and their city. Find the questions on the back of your ballot and approve them for a stronger New York City.

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Alex Camarda is Senior Policy Advisor for Reinvent Albany. On Twitter @alex_camarda & @ReinventAlbany.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Vote Yes Three Times to Improve New York City Democracy Mon, 05 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
What's the [DATA] Point? 3, with Cesar Perales, Charter Commission Chair http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8035-what-s-the-data-point-3-with-cesar-perales-charter-commission-chair http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8035-what-s-the-data-point-3-with-cesar-perales-charter-commission-chair whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 58 -- 3, Cesar Perales, chair of the mayor’s 2018 charter revision commission [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

cesarpicCesar Perales, chair of Mayor Bill de Blasio's 2018 Charter Revision Commission, joined the podcast to discuss the commission's work and the three ballot proposals it put forth that go before voters on Election Day: Tuesday, November 6, which deal with campaign finance reform, creating a civic engagement commission, and term limits for community board members, among other details.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's the [DATA] Point? 3, with Cesar Perales, Charter Commission Chair Thu, 01 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Pushes 'Yes' Vote on 3 Ballot Proposals http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8040-de-blasio-pushes-yes-vote-on-3-ballot-proposals http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8040-de-blasio-pushes-yes-vote-on-3-ballot-proposals de blasio 3 ballet

32BJ's Hector Figueroa, with Mayor de Blasio and others (photo: @32BJSEIU)


Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday continued his eleventh-hour push for the ballot proposals put forth by his Charter Revision Commission, with a rally at the headquarters of labor union 32BJ SEIU, where he was joined by other unions, elected officials, and advocates in favor of the three reforms that will appear on New York City voters’ ballots on Election Day.

De Blasio, who announced the commission in his 2018 State of the City address to examine and propose revisions to the city’s charter, characterizes the three proposals as ones that will strengthen democracy in New York City. Broadly speaking, though each has numerous accompanying details, the proposals are to lower individual campaign contribution limits and increase the public match ratio; create a civic engagement commission that would run a citywide participatory budgeting program and do other tasks to promote civic involvement; and, most controversially, term limits for community board members and other changes to the community board membership process.

After saying virtually nothing about them for weeks, the mayor has been on something of a last-minute whirlwind tour in favor of the proposals. On Sunday, the mayor stumped for them at two Manhattan churches. On Tuesday, he conducted a telephone town hall and published an op-ed in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle supporting the measures. He and his team have been urging allies, including Senator Bernie Sanders, to promote “yes” votes, and the mayor’s social media feeds have been promoting the measures and expressions of support for them.

The Thursday rally, backed by the “Democracy Yes” coalition of unions, advocates, good government groups, and community groups that support the proposals, is the latest in de Blasio’s campaign sweep through the city in favor of the charter revisions.

The mayor and the assembled crowd characterized the measures as a way to wrest control of the democratic process away from old, wealthy, white men and towards more democratic control and greater representation for young people, people of color, immigrants, and low-income people.

“If what young people hear from everyone else around them is, ‘wait your turn,’ that is not a way to create a healthier, stronger democracy,” de Blasio said, referencing opposition to the community board term limit proposal. Critics say term limits would lead to a brain drain on community boards to the benefit of real estate developers, though the real estate lobby itself is against term limits. The proposal would limit members to four consectuve two-year terms, but those term-limited from reapplying would only have to sit out one two-year term before being eligible for reappointment by their borough president.

The borough presidents, aside from Brooklyn’s Eric Adams, and Comptroller Scott Stringer (the former Manhattan borough president) have led the charge against Proposal 3.

“Our message needs to be the opposite,” the mayor continued.

“Imagine if the system was not rigged against everyday people, but actually strengthened the hand of everyday New Yorkers so we could lead our own city,” de Blasio said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton also spoke in favor of all three proposals, making racial justice arguments and calling the measures models for the country and bulwarks against voter suppression nationwide, invoking the memory of civil rights movement protesters.

“These measures that we’re voting in New York is what they fought for to give us the right to vote,” Sharpton said. “They did not fight, and some die, to give us the right to vote for only people with rich friends to be able to run for office.”

The city’s public campaign financing system, whereby the first or up to $175 of a donation is matched 6-to-1 by public dollars, is often considered a model for the nation for how to achieve sustainable public financing of campaigns. Proposal 1 would increase the match to 8-to-1, and match donations up to $250. It would also lower campaign contribution limits for all city offices. Advocates say that it would allow more people to run for office and lower prospective candidates’ reliance on wealthy people for funding.

“When we consider running for office, we encounter barriers so difficult to overcome, many feel defeated,” said Hercules Reid, the former student government president at the New York City College of Technology and current legislative director for the CUNY University Student Senate. “It is a herculean task trying to get elected in this city.”

“Barriers to office are real, and a real big one is that not a lot of us know a ton of rich people,” Reid continued. De Blasio later echoed this point, though the mayor has raised significant funds from large donors, both for his election campaigns and outside groups. It was fundraising for those outside groups -- nonprofit advocacy organizations -- that led to investigations of de Blasio and his associates that resulted in no criminal charges but sharp criticism from law enforcement leaders and good government advocates, among others, as well as new city laws meant to curb the type of fundraising de Blasio did.

The second ballot question would establish a “civic engagement commission” to increase participation in New York’s civic life, including voting. The mayor noted improving translation services at the polls as a particularly important item for the commission to take up, while City Council Member Brad Lander discussed increasing community engagement with and knowledge of community boards, PTAs, and other institutions. The most significant job of the commission, however, would be to expand participatory budgeting citywide.

Practiced in 31 of the 51 City Council districts this year, participatory budgeting allows community residents to suggest and vote on specific projects within their districts that they would like to fund with tax dollars allocated through the local Council member’s capital funds.

“A little over half the city now has it, but almost half does not, and most New Yorkers don’t yet know about it, because we’ve not been able to invest real citywide resources in it,” Lander said. “Participatory budgeting functions like a gateway drug to democracy.” Some projects funded in Lander’s district in the last cycle include replacing “derelict Kindergarten sinks at PS 282,” replacing a broken gate at the PS 118 schoolyard to make it accessible, and building a “playground” for seniors.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Comptroller Stringer both take issue with the civic engagement commission, which Stringer characterizes as a power grab by the mayor, who would appoint a majority of its members. Brewer, who has formed an independent expenditure committee in opposition to questions 2 and 3, asserts that the commission’s outreach and assistance efforts with community boards would be an encroachment by the mayor on a duty typically performed by borough presidents.

“A ‘Civic Engagement Commission’ controlled by any Mayor also puts communities at a disadvantage and won’t enhance democracy in our neighborhoods,” Stringer said in a statement released soon after the mayor’s rally. Asked for a response, de Blasio said that the commission’s structure as proposed is “organized for effectiveness” but didn’t elaborate, and noted that he supports a “professionalized” Board of Elections.

On the third and most controversial proposal, which is centered on term limits for community board members, the mayor and advocates claim that term limits have been successful for elected city officials, and instituting them for community boards would free up space for new voices where older and whiter ones than the communities they represent typically reign. The proposal would also require borough presidents to seek people of “diverse backgrounds” for appointments, to make the boards more accurately represent their communities, and provide more public information.

“If the door’s not open, that’s not democracy,” de Blasio said. “Community boards have to be for everyone, every community, every background, young, old, everyone needs a chance to serve. Term limits for community boards is simply the way of saying ‘let’s give everyone a chance to participate.’”

Opponents of term limits, such as Brewer and Stringer, have charged that an exodus of longtime, experienced community board members would cause both a brain drain and a diminution of influence on complex land use decisions, allowing developers to run roughshod over them.

“It would have the effect of allowing developers and their lawyers—who are never term limited!—to dominate development negotiations, because those long-time members will be gone,” Brewer wrote in an email to supporters in October signaling her opposition to Questions 2 and 3. “And on long-term city projects like street redesign or sustainability, newly-appointed community board members would have little influence over long-term projects. Every Board’s institutional memory would be wiped out.”

De Blasio did not buy the arguments. “I have term limits, my colleagues in the City Council have term limits, the President of the United States has term limits,” he said. “I think there’s something healthy about the notion that all public servants have an opportunity to turn over the reins once in a while.”

“Let’s say someone served for 20 years on their community board,” he continued. “Under this ballot measure, they will get to serve another eight years, they would take a two year break, and if they wanted to come back and there was a seat, they could have that seat. I think there will be plenty of institutional knowledge preserved. But honestly, what we’re missing right now is new voices, we’re missing diversity, we’re missing young people.”

Another charter revision commission, empaneled by the City Council through legislation pushed by Brewer and Public Advocate Letitia James, started while the mayor’s commission was underway and is working to produce its own ballot measures for 2019. The mayor told Gotham Gazette that the commissions are not rivaling each other, and that his office is working with the 2019 commission, on which he has several appointees.

Some issues were considered and rejected by the mayor’s commission, including independent redistricting of City Council districts and ranked-choice voting. The mayor told Gotham Gazette that he hopes the 2019 commission continues looking into ranked-choice voting, in particular.

“There was a very vibrant discussion in this charter revision commission, for example, about ranked-choice voting,” he said. “For me, the jury’s still out on ranked-choice voting. I grew up with it, in Massachusetts. I think it has strengths and I think it has weaknesses, and I’d certainly like to see a lot more research on it. But there’s a lot of people who believe it might be very beneficial in New York City. That’s the kind of thing that deserves a really thorough airing of all the facts.”

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio Pushes 'Yes' Vote on 3 Ballot Proposals Thu, 01 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Prominent Elected Officials Oppose De Blasio Charter Revision Proposals http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8026-prominent-elected-officials-oppose-de-blasio-charter-revision-proposals http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8026-prominent-elected-officials-oppose-de-blasio-charter-revision-proposals Mayor de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio is seeking to make a lasting impact on city governance through a charter revision commission that would transform the city’s campaign finance system, promote greater civic involvement in city affairs, and inject new blood into local community boards. But prominent elected officials, most of whom are Democrats like de Blasio, don’t agree with the proposals the mayor’s commission has put on the November 6 ballot and are urging New Yorkers to reject them.

The mayor’s commission put three questions on the ballot for voter approval through a simple majority. The first would significantly reduce individual campaign contribution limits and expand the city’s public matching funds program; the second would create a civic engagement commission with appointments mostly by the mayor to coordinate citywide participatory budgeting and other initiatives such as interpreting services at polling sites; and the third would impose term limits on community board members and alter how those members are recruited and appointed to ensure greater diversity.

Though the mayor appointed the commission and announced its areas of focus, he was not to have direct say over its final report or proposals, but he did announce support for all three and is now campaigning to see them approved by voters.

“These reforms will go a long way toward strengthening our democracy and limiting the influence of big money in our elections,” he said in a September statement, when the proposals were released. “There's no doubt in my mind that these measures will help us build a more fair and equitable city.” On Sunday, de Blasio spoke at two churches in Manhattan, urging congregants to flip their ballot and decide on the three questions. “[V]ote yes, yes, yes. So we can open up the doors of democracy wide and make this an even greater city,” he said at Bethel Gospel Assembly.

Other elected officials, however, are not so certain, and are expressing somewhat mixed reviews, though many are opposed to community board term limits.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, for instance, supports lowering contribution limits and creating a civic engagement commission, but not term limits for community board members. “I don’t think term limits are necessary,” Johnson, a former community boar chair, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “These aren’t lifetime appointments. They must be reappointed by elected officials who are term limited. I think that provides enough checks and balances to our community boards, while allowing us to keep the good members with experience and wisdom. It is also our job as elected officials to always be looking to appoint new civic minded leaders who are interested in serving.”

It’s an argument that’s also been advanced by four of the five borough presidents -- only Brooklyn’s Eric Adams supports the term limits question.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, in fact, led the creation of an independent expenditure committee to oppose both term limits and the civic engagement commission, an effort in which she was joined by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo (Oddo is the lone Republican in the group). “These proposals would be a real—and in some cases dangerous—disruption to the way Community Boards protect our communities,” Brewer wrote in an email to supporters earlier this month, arguing that it could lead to a drain in institutional wisdom and give real estate interests and lobbyists a leg up in discussions about community development. The proposal does include a provision whereby individuals term-limited off of community boards are eligible to serve again after a one-term, two-year “cooling off period.”

“Our community boards are the eyes and ears of our neighborhoods and are often the first line of defense against unwanted projects as well as the initial point of contact between city agencies and our neighbors,” said Diaz Jr. “We should be working to strengthen their role, not strip them of the knowledge and historical focus that makes them so important in the first place.”

Katz said the current appointment process allows “ample opportunity” to pick diverse candidates “for a dynamic mix of talent,” while Oddo worried that the “one-size-fits-all solution” could have unintended consequences.

Adams, however, has argued, “While institutional knowledge is valuable, a reasonable term limit for Community Board members will allow the best of both worlds: institutional knowledge and new voices.”

On expanding the campaign finance system, however, only Adams and Oddo have publicly opposed the question among the borough presidents, though for different reasons. “[Brooklyn BP Adams] opposes the campaign finance reform measure because it doesn’t go far enough as he believes in 100 percent public financing,” said an Adams spokesperson. Oddo, on the other hand, has been a staunch opponent of public financing and simply said, “Hell no!” about proposal one.

Spokespeople for Katz and Diaz Jr. did not respond to requests for comment about the campaign finance reform proposal.

[Read: Brewer Creates Committee to Oppose Charter Revision Proposals]

Comptroller Scott Stringer also opposes the second and third questions while supporting the first on campaign finance reform. “The City must take a serious look at our Charter — it’s critical to tackling the important issues facing New Yorkers,” he said in a statement. Stringer has laid out his own exhaustive plan of charter proposals to the 2019 charter commission, a separate one from the mayor’s that was created through City Council legislation that is taking a far broader look at the city’s governing principles. 

Stringer added, “I support the first initiative because we need a campaign finance system that does everything it can to engage New Yorkers and help people run for office. I oppose proposals 2 and 3 which will weaken communities’ voices in shaping their own development.”

At an October 31 news conference at City Hall, Gotham Gazette asked Speaker Johnson if he would urge the 2019 commission to reverse community board term limits if they should pass. Johnson said he would not. "I think it's important to lice by the will of the voters," he said.  

A spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James did not provide her stances despite multiple requests for comment, one of which was acknowledged.

Among a few rank-and-file City Council Members, reception of the proposals seems to be mixed. Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, for example, supports all three proposals and has in particular been advocating for the creation of the civic engagement commission -- Lander had proposed the idea through legislation and presented it to the commission.

“I truly believe these ballot proposals give us an opportunity to do something important to strengthen our local democracy: To improve our campaign finance rules. To turbo-charge civic engagement. To expand participatory budgeting city-wide,” he said in an email blast to supporters, calling on New Yorkers to pledge their support.

Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos, also a Democrat, is backing all the proposals as well. Kallos has been a staunch campaign finance reform advocate and the first question would partially achieve what he has in the past tried to do through legislation, to expand the amount of public funds given to candidates running for office. “Democracy in New York City will finally get better,” he said in a September 6 statement, if the first question is passed, “reducing contribution limits and making small dollars more valuable by matching more of them with a greater multiplier.”

City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, a Queens Democrat, is also urging a "yes" vote on all three proposals. City Council Member Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat, has expressed support for the campaign finance proposal, but a spokesperson did not respond to a request for his positions on the other two.

On the other end, there’s Council Member Helen Rosenthal, again a Manhattan Democrat, who opposes all three measures. “The spirit of the first two proposals is positive and some of the substance is even promising, but each raises significant concerns to the point where I cannot support them,” she said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Also noting a criticism that was raised when the mayor first announced his commission, she added, “Of course, all three proposals could be implemented through the current legislative process.”

Even government reform groups appear somewhat split on the ballot proposals. Reinvent Albany is advocating for all three. “Reinvent Albany believes a YES vote on these ballot measures will collectively amplify the voice of everyday New Yorkers and create new opportunities for injecting fresh perspectives into the public debate over how to make our city better for everyone,” the group said in an email blast on Monday.

Citizens Union, another good government advocacy organization opposes the proposal for a civic engagement commission, supports community board term limits, and has not taken a position on the campaign finance question.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - This article has been updated with additional comment from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Jumaane Williams.   

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Prominent Elected Officials Oppose De Blasio Charter Revision Proposals Mon, 29 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Brewer Creates Committee to Oppose Charter Revision Proposals http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8000-brewer-creates-committee-to-oppose-charter-revision-proposals http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8000-brewer-creates-committee-to-oppose-charter-revision-proposals brewer de blasio bill signing

Mayor de Blasio & BP Brewer (photo: Brewer's office)


Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is forming an independent expenditure committee to try to defeat two public referenda on the November general election ballot that would impose term limits on community board members and create a new citywide civic engagement agency under the control of the mayor’s office.

Last month, the charter revision commission created by Mayor Bill de Blasio approved three ballot questions to present to voters on November 6. The first would significantly reduce campaign contribution limits and make small but significant enhancements to the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which incentivizes small-dollar fundraising. Brewer has not taken a position on that proposal.

[Read: Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Puts Three Questions on November Ballot]

On the other two questions, however, the Manhattan borough president is ardently opposed, and is mobilizing people and money to persuade New York City voters to defeat them.

Question two creates a centralized Civic Engagement Commission, with a majority of members appointed by the mayor, to coordinate citywide efforts on participatory budgeting, community engagement, and to provide technical assistance to the city’s 59 community boards.

Question three, the most controversial of the proposals, would limit the number of terms community board members can serve while also reforming the recruitment and appointment process that borough presidents use to fill board rosters.

Brewer insists both those questions are misguided, and is forming a committee called “Vote No on 2 & 3” to campaign against them. 

“These proposals would be a real—and in some cases dangerous—disruption to the way Community Boards protect our communities,” she wrote in an email blast to supporters from her personal email account, soliciting funds for the incipient committee and urging recipients to spread the word. (Elected officials are not allowed to advocate for or against ballot proposals in their official capacity under state law and per guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board.)

Though the committee does not yet seem to be registered with the state Board of Elections, a sign-up web page declares that it is “an official NYS independent expenditure committee, made up of volunteers, some belonging to Community Boards and some not, who think Proposals 2 & 3 are bad news for neighborhoods and a giveaway to developers and City Hall.” Asked for clarification, a spokesperson for the committee did not respond.

Brewer argues, as have other opponents, that community board term limits would lead to a brain drain of experienced and engaged community board members to the benefit of lobbyists and developers looking to exploit communities without facing pushback. In particular, she said, community board members with know-how on complicated land use and zoning issues would be kicked out.

“It would have the effect of allowing developers and their lawyers—who are never term limited!—to dominate development negotiations, because those long-time members will be gone,” Brewer wrote. “And on long-term city projects like street redesign or sustainability, newly-appointed community board members would have little influence over long-term projects. Every Board’s institutional memory would be wiped out.”

In a statement, Matt Gewolb, executive director of the charter commission, emphasized the testimony received from across the five boroughs, urging the commission to make community boards more diverse, reflective of the neighborhoods they serve, and to give them additional resources. “The Commission's proposals are designed in response to this community input,” he said. “As the Commission has described in its reports, the proposal seeks to strike a reasonable balance between retaining valuable institutional knowledge and providing opportunities for new voices to have a seat at the table.”

Brewer, however, insisted that the proposal is “redundant” since the borough presidents and City Council members that apppoint community board members are themselves limited to serving two terms each. She also took issue with the proposed duties that the Civic Engagement Commission would have in assisting community boards, seeing it as an encroachment on the powers of the borough presidents who currently perform those roles.

The Manhattan borough president isn’t alone in her opposition. Of the five borough presidents, only Brooklyn’s Eric Adams has come out in support of community board term limits, which supporters say would diversify the boards, providing more representation for younger people and people of color. The other three -- Ruben Diaz Jr. in the Bronx, Melinda Katz in Queens, and Staten Island’s James Oddo -- all oppose the second and third questions.

In a statement through a spokesperson, Adams said, “This is what democracy is all about. I applaud my colleague and friend Borough President Brewer for making her voice heard.”

Brewer ended her appeal by urging supporters to vote against the two proposals and also to testify against them at several forums scheduled over the next week by the charter commission to educate voters. Last month, she also took her message to the 2019 charter revision commission, urging it to reverse the mayor’s commission’s proposals if they are approved by voters. “Community Boards are our first line of offense in promoting neighborhood planning and our first line of defense in protecting neighborhoods from developers who seek only maximum profit from their work in our communities,” she said at the September 27 hearing of the commission that will put proposals on next year’s general election ballot, and on which she appointed one member as part of a process created by legislation she and Public Advocate Letitia James moved through the City Council.

Asked last week about the possibility that the 2019 commission could negate the mayor’s commission’s work, mayoral spokesperson Seth Stein said in an email, “We’re not going to predict what the Council Commission will do, and will review any proposals.”

[Read: Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Puts Three Questions on November Ballot]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - this article has been updated. 

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Brewer Creates Committee to Oppose Charter Revision Proposals Tue, 16 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000