Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/635 Tue, 14 Aug 2018 08:35:48 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) As City Proceeds with Two Charter Revision Commissions, A Cautionary Tale from Los Angeles http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7663:as-city-proceeds-with-two-charter-revision-commissions-a-cautionary-tale-from-los-angeles http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7663:as-city-proceeds-with-two-charter-revision-commissions-a-cautionary-tale-from-los-angeles mayor staab office

City Hall (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


Public awareness is at the heart of achieving buy-in and delivering progress through a charter revision commission, which can propose foundational changes to city laws that go before voters for approval or disapproval. But in New York City, there will soon be two such commissions running concurrently -- one launched by Mayor Bill de Blasio and another through City Council legislation -- creating risk of competing and overly-politicized messages, a confused public, and, ultimately, failure at the polls despite significant attempts to offer potential improvements to how the city functions.

The dual commissions are being called duplicative and “absurd,” showing that New York City did not heed a cautionary tale from across the country two decades ago.

A similar instance was seen in Los Angeles in 1999 and serves as an example of the unnecessary confusion and wasted resources two simultaneous charter revision commissions can cause. “If it can be avoided, don’t have two separate commissions,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, the publicly-elected chair of the mayor’s 1999 charter revision commission in Los Angeles, in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

Chemerinsky spent almost two years deadlocked with a separate commission appointed by the Los Angeles City Council and said he “can’t believe it’s happening again” in New York. It was only after extensive negotiations with the chair of the L.A. Council’s appointed commission, George Kieffer, that Chemerinsky could reach a compromise and deliver one proposal to voters in June of 1999.

“[It’s] a huge waste of time and effort. Also, the two commissions inevitably will be perceived – and will perceive themselves – as rivals,” Chemerinsky said.

At the moment in New York City, the charter revision commission called by de Blasio through mayoral fiat, with all 15 commissioners named by the mayor, is in the midst of public hearings and rapidly working towards delivering voters ballot proposals for a changed charter on Election Day in November of this year. His commission, announced during his February State of the City address, has been given a mandate to focus on campaign finance reform and improving voter access -- with the context that only 1 million of 4.6 million active voters turned up for the 2017 mayoral election in November, up slightly from record low turnout in 2013.

Yet, charter revision commissions are required to consider the entirety of the charter when doing their work. “Either commission could take up whatever issues it wants to take up,” Hunter College professor Joseph Viteritti, who was involved in New York City’s 1989 charter revision commission – the last time the city’s charter was truly looked at in its entirety (and revamped significantly) – told Gotham Gazette. “Once the commission is set up it can do what it chooses.”

The other commission, the creation of Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and the City Council, has a much broader mandate from those officials, and is being tasked with a full review of the charter including looking at major processes for land use and budgeting. It has a longer timeline -- with proposals projected to go before voters in November 2019 -- and will be made up of commissioners appointed by the citywide and borough-wide elected officials.  

Its members have not yet been appointed, but de Blasio, who will have four appointees to the commission, recently signed the legislation to create it. The mayor has downplayed the notion of two competing commissions.

“They’re different concepts,” de Blasio told Gotham Gazette at an April 25 press conference. “We talked very openly about the goals of each commission…They are trying to achieve different things.”

Others are far more concerned.

“It’s hard to get the public engaged in a discussion about the city’s charter,” said Claude Millman, who served as a commissioner during the 2001 New York City charter revision commission and who was the executive director for the city’s 1999 commission. “It’s even harder to keep the public involved when charter revision is diffused over two, separate commissions.”

The city charter is, as Viteritti explains, “the city’s constitution.” It’s a document that outlines the distribution of power and describes the duties of municipal officials. New York City has seen several charter revision commissions in the last decades, including in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2010. Not all of them were successful in having their proposals approved by voters. But the last complete overhaul to the city’s charter -- similar to what the City Council is hoping to deliver -- was approved in 1989, with sweeping changes to how city government is structured and functions. “These kinds of issues are profound, it could reorganize the whole government,” Viteritti said.

In Los Angeles, the city’s charter was also transformed following the 1999 public vote, in which 60 percent of voters approved the proposed measure, The New York Times reported. The document was condensed to improve efficiency and clarity (according to the University of Southern California, it was sliced from a 700-page document to a 143-page document) and it led to the introduction of neighborhood councils, delivered things like clarification on the role of the police commission’s inspector general, and mandated regular audits of the city’s finances.

Chemerinsky said the charter overhaul was only successful because, after spending two “frustrating” years conducting hearings and operating separately as seeming “rivals,” the mayor’s commission and the City Council’s commission came together to deliver the public one coherent and comprehensive proposal at the polls. “George Kieffer, the chair of the [City Council’s] appointed commission called me and said we needed to come up with one proposal or both would get defeated,” Chemerinsky said. “It was tremendously difficult. It took a huge effort to work out a compromise and an even larger effort to get the commissions to accept it.”

New York City should consider this example fair warning, says Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, a government reform organization.

“I think it’s absurd we have two,” Lerner told Gotham Gazette and City Limits during a recent podcast. Referencing the Los Angeles example, Lerner said: “at the end of the day, after double staffing and double meetings that multiplied the process unnecessarily, they ended up having to consolidate and come up with one compromised charter revision.”

And there is no doubt the resources involved are extensive -- the mayor has budged $1.5 million for his commission; the City Council has its slotted to spend at least $1.7 million. “It’s a Herculean task,” Millman said. “The new agency has to open its office, divvy up tasks, promote its mission to the public, draft legislation, prepare reports justifying the need for the legislation, find and consult with experts, hold hearings throughout the city, respond to media and elected officials, select legislative proposals that are detailed enough to matter, and summarize those legislative proposals in a few sentences that can fit on the ballot.”

Though James and Brewer urged the mayor to drop his commission, telling the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations during a March 16 haring that it has “predetermined conclusions; narrow focus; and a timeline too tight,” de Blasio has given no indication of slowing down. His commission has already held five public hearings, one in each borough wrapped up in Manhattan on Wednesday night, and is moving quickly towards a ballot proposal deadline of September 7 and Election Day vote in less than six months.

James believes that campaign finance reform can be looked at as part of an “independent” and all-encompassing commission.

“New Yorkers deserve a truly independent review commission that is charged with evaluating the entire charter to effectively take on the needs of neighborhoods and communities across the city,” James told Gotham Gazette. “The mayor has made it clear that his commission will focus solely on campaign finance reform. While I wholly support campaign finance reform, after thirty years, it is time that we do a top to bottom review of the city's charter in a democratic and inclusive manner.”

On the other hand, Brewer said she thinks the commissions “don’t need to be combined” as they are serving different purposes, but admitted talking about the two might prove confusing for the public. “It may be a bit confusing for us all to talk about two different commissions over the next couple months, but there doesn’t need to be any conflict,” she said in an interview.

The open public hearings held by the mayor’s commission in recent weeks have seen varying levels of engagement, but many of the questions and comments from members of the public have been about issues separate from campaign finance reform or voter access.

At the hearing in the Bronx on April 30, there were concerns raised around term limits for elected officials; suggestions around an independent body with the power to discipline police; questions around the amount of public funding going to NYC Health + Hospitals; and queries about obtaining a New York driver’s license and state identification for people living in the borough.

During the Brooklyn hearing on Tuesday evening, those testifying touched on a variety of matters, including campaign finance reform and civic engagement, but also land use processes, school integration, and more.

“Hearings give people opportunity to voice issues they think are important – issues about the amount of power the mayor has, community boards, the role of money in campaigns,” Viteritti said.

Yet, depending on what comes through de Blasio’s commission, the same people may feel compelled to turn up again to address the City Council’s commission, sharing the same concerns if left unaddressed.

“It’s a sad statement the mayor and the City Council couldn’t come together on this,” said Lerner, of Common Cause, which will be offering testimony to the commissions. Another government reform group, Reinvent Albany, recently testified to the mayoral commission that it should explore proposing strict fundraising limitations on nonprofits that are aligned with city government.

According to Viteritti, the success of the city’s 1989 commission came from an “honest, scholarly and research-oriented examination of the charter” by experts. “It shouldn’t be political resizing, or re-allocating the power balances within the institution in the name of self-interested parties,” he said.

“I don’t think the two commissions are going to be combined here,” Viteritti continued. “But I hope both commissions can bring in real experts to prepare an informative report for the public and it doesn’t turn into a back-and-forth politically.”

As the two Los Angeles commissions were being formed in the late 1990s, the LA Times asked, “Can Charter Reform Survive the Politics?” The answer appeared to be “no” as the two commissions carried on their rivalry, even after a merger of proposals -- “Nasty Turn on Charter Reform,” another headline declared -- with the LA Times reporting: "No doubt some council members hoped that bickering and competition between the two commissions--and between the mayor and the council--would doom serious reform.”

But after all, a "Great Leap into Reform" was taken, according to the LA Times, which credited Mayor Richard Riordan for the charter revision success and applauded the "36 men and women of the two charter reform commissions who, in more than 300 meetings over two years, crafted a document that will serve Los Angeles' future, not its past."

Mayor Riordan, in turn, credited Chemerinsky. “His clarity and leadership brought together a consensus that would have been impossible without him, and that consensus was absolutely necessary,” Riordan said, according to a University of Southern California article from soon after the vote. “It absolutely wouldn’t have happened without him.”

If executed thoroughly and with forward thinking, the impact a successful charter revision commission can have on a city is extraordinary. “Los Angeles Reinvents Itself, Adopting New City Charter” reads a 1999 headline from The New York Times after the charter review proposals were successful at the polls, somewhat similarly to New York’s successful 1989 overhaul. Local communities in Los Angeles were given increased control over zoning and planning, and a system of neighbourhood advisory councils was introduced. But delivering these positive changes took a united effort from the mayor and the City Council, Chemerinsky said, if not in the commissions themselves, then in their messages to the pubic.

“If there are two commissions, find a way to have them come together,” Chemerinsky said. “Find a way to have one commission, or failing that, one proposal.”

[Read: De Blasio Downplays Placing Donors on Charter Revision Commission]

[Read: With Transparency Tweaks, City Council Passes Charter Revision Commission Bill]

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by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

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As City Proceeds with Two Charter Revision Commissions, A Cautionary Tale from Los Angeles Wed, 09 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Brooklynites Testify at Charter Revision Commission Hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7662:brooklynites-testify-at-charter-revision-commission-hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7662:brooklynites-testify-at-charter-revision-commission-hearing Mayor de Blasio charter revision

Mayor de Blasio at a hearing at City Hall (photo: Mayoral Photography Office)


Calls for campaign finance improvements, election reform, and changes to the structure and functions of community boards dominated the fourth borough hearing of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission, held Monday night at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Created by the mayor to review the charter, which outlines the city’s foundational governance, the commission is holding a slew of hearings across the city to solicit public input on changes that New Yorkers want to see in the powers and role of the municipal government. Those proposed changes will eventually be included as referenda on the November election ballot. On Monday, over the course of three-and-a-half hours, about two dozen people testified before the commission on concerns both broad and parochial.

With the mayor having formed the commission with particular goals in mind -- improving voter participation and reducing the influence of money in elections -- it wasn’t surprising that campaign finance reform was a large focus of the hearing. Government reform groups urged the commissioners to consider a slew of changes, some controversial, and to further strengthen the city’s campaign finance system, which is considered a national model.  

Among other things, Citizens Union, one of the groups, pushed for a top-two election system regardless of party, instant runoff voting, independent redistricting for City Council seats, and transferring oversight of lobbying disclosure from the City Clerk’s office to the Campaign Finance Board.

Another advocate, Jeremy Gruber, senior vice president of Open Primaries, as his organization’s name suggests, called on the commission to propose allowing all registered voters to cast a ballot in primary elections, which currently are limited to voters registered with a political party and exclude nearly a million independent voters. “Every New York City voter benefits from a healthier, more inclusive political system that encourages competition,” Gruber said, noting the chaos that accompanied the 2016 presidential primary in the state when hundreds of thousands of independent voters were incensed by being shut out of the Democratic primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Questions were raised about a few of those recommendations. Commissioner Larian Angelo expressed concern that a top-two election system, in which the top two vote-getters in a primary advance to the general election, might shut out Republicans in a Democrat-heavy city. And nonpartisan open primaries, Commission Chair Cesar Perales pointed out, had been put before the voters in a referendum years ago and was soundly rejected. “I’m playing the devil’s advocate here,” he conceded.

Gruber, though, insisted that the concept was “incredibly relevant” in the current political climate, with voters increasingly alienated from political parties and seeking to exercise their voting rights as independents.

Other ideas that found purchase among the audience and the commissioners were proposals to institutionalize participatory budgeting. Certain City Council members employ the program in their districts, allowing constituents to vote on how to direct $1 million or more in funding towards various programs and initiatives. Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the program could be expanded citywide. She also said members of the Campaign Finance Board should no longer be solely appointed by the mayor, to increase ethics oversight of the agency.

Lerner, and others, also pushed for a move towards full public financing of elections, by first increasing the amount of funds that the CFB provides to candidates under it’s public matching funds system, which incentivizes small-dollar donations up to $175 by matching them at a 6-to-1 ratio. Those who testified included individuals who have unsuccessfully run for City Council in the past, and who said that the current system continues to favor candidates with access to wealthy donors and those with the resources to navigate the CFB’s at-times onerous regulations.

“Everyone deserves a fair and equal voice and now giving that opportunity of raising someone’s voice who is less fortunate can help ensure that their opinions and needs do not fade off into night behind those who can afford to raise their own,” said RJ DeMello, a community activist.

Another popular proposal, put forward by Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander and supported by many of those who testified, involves creating a New York City Office of Civic Engagement, to encourage voter participation and local involvement in civic affairs. Amina Fofana, a member of Integrate NYC, a youth-led organization working towards school integration, said Lander’s civic engagement office was necessary so “youth can be able to voice their opinions and have a part in the decisions that are being made.”

Lander, who has introduced legislation to create the office, also spoke at Monday’s hearing. A nonpartisan, independent citywide Office of Civic Engagement could “truly empower people to engage in shaping their communities, which is really what democracy is supposed to be about,” he said. However, in his State of the City speech in February when he announced plans for his charter revision commission, de Blasio also said he was going to name a Chief Democracy Officer in the mayor’s office, though the scope of that position does not appear as wide-ranging as the office Lander is pushing for.

Several local residents at Monday’s hearing had narrower but substantive concerns about the functioning of community boards, the most localized iteration of municipal government. Some suggested that community board members should be elected rather than appointed, with term limits, and that borough presidents should be removed from the appointment process. “Community boards are their own political entity. Without term limits, their ability to represent constituents goes down,” said one resident and community organizer, Juan Restrepo.

Other suggestions included proportional representation from the population of the local district, a standard regulating structure for boards citywide, and a stronger role in local land use decisions.

Paula Segal, a senior staff attorney in the Equitable Neighborhoods practice at the Community Development Project, advocated for more equitable land use policies, noting that publicly owned land is leased out or sold without being subject to the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). She pushed for improvements to ULURP and increased transparency in land use applications, and reforms to the tax lien process for charities and nonprofits. Segal’s boldest proposal was the “enshrinement of a right to housing” for the homeless, as opposed to the state law which provides for a right to shelter and creates what Segal called a “shelter industrial complex.”

There were also some speakers on tangential matters, who urged changes in voter registration and voting laws, which fall under the purview of the state Legislature and cannot be affected by revisions of the city charter. At least two people, including Republican congressional candidate Lutchi Gayot, said that Commissioner Una Clarke should recuse herself from the panel because her daughter, Congressional Rep. Yvette Clarke, is running for reelection and that posed a conflict of interest. Commission members had to repeatedly remind the audience that the commission’s work has no bearing on federal election regulations or practices. “[N]obody ever considered me a rubber stamp for anything,” Clarke retorted to one resident, noting that she and the other members of the commission are independent volunteers.

Yet others seemed slighted by how the commission was carrying out its work. Matt Fairley, who said he is a resident of Lander’s district, critiqued the commission for allowing representatives of established organizations to testify first, which “only increases the sense of alienation that voters in this city feel that people who are connected will be given primacy of place,” he said.

Fairley proposed a sweeping change in city government, insisting that New York City needs to increase the number of elected officials from the 64 that currently hold office across different levels. The idea found support from others as well, including Dr. John Flateau, a professor at Medgar Evers College who also serves as the Democratic Board of Elections commissioner from Brooklyn.

Flateau suggested that the City Council should have 59 seats, up from 51, to match the number of community boards. He had 21 proposals in total for the commission, though he was afforded only enough time to verbally advance a few, including granting legal permanent residents the right to vote in municipal elections, reviewing the composition of various city boards and commissions, and advice and consent powers for the City Council on mayoral appointments.  

The Commission will hold its next hearing in Manhattan on Wednesday. An initial draft list of recommendations from the commission is expected in July.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Brooklynites Testify at Charter Revision Commission Hearing Tue, 08 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Reforming Special Elections & More in Albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7617:max-murphy-podcast-reforming-special-elections-more-in-albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7617:max-murphy-podcast-reforming-special-elections-more-in-albany mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


April 17, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Reforming Special Elections & More in Albany

susan lerner cc ny

Susan Lerner of Common Cause/NY is one of the leading government reform advocates and activists in New York. With a recently-passed state budget largely missing any ethics, campaign finance or voting reforms, and a slate of special elections scheduled for next week, Lerner joined the podcast to discuss what is broken and how it should be fixed.

Lerner explains that the political parties have a "stranglehold" on elections in New York, that the state Legislature is clearly not doing the will of the people on key issues like voting and bail reform, and that state government is being "unresponsive" to the plague of corruption.

Lerner also weighs in on issues in New York City around the recently-called charter revision commissions, one by the mayor and one by the City Council, calling it "absurd" that there will be two and expressing hope for a merger. Beyond criticism, though, Lerner provides many thoughts on what should be happening in New York. 

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Reforming Special Elections & More in Albany Tue, 17 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Hears Bill on Charter Revision Commission http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7547:city-council-hears-bill-on-charter-revision-commission http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7547:city-council-hears-bill-on-charter-revision-commission Fernando Cabrera

Council Member Fernando Cabrera (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


A day after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced initial appointments to a Charter Revision Commission that he is convening to examine the city’s campaign finance laws, Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer testified before the City Council on their own alternative proposal to create a Commission to examine the structure of city government.

The Charter is the city’s seminal governing document, laying out the powers and functions of every level of city government. It is also a living document, and state law allows the mayor to create a 15-member Charter Revision Commission under his executive authority and also gives the City Council power to create one through legislation. Past mayors have availed of this power, some more than once. In February, de Blasio announced at his State of the City address that he intended to call a commission that could put proposals on the ballot for the November general election.

On Friday, speaking before the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, James and Brewer advanced their proposal, which they had put before the Council in December and which City Council Speaker Corey Johnson recently signed on to as a lead co-sponsor. (The hearing had been on the schedule all week, perhaps explaining the timing of the mayor’s Thursday announcement.)

As opposed to the mayor’s commission, where he appoints all 15 members, the James-Brewer bill would allow other elected officials a say in the process. The mayor would get four appointments, as would the City Council speaker. The five borough presidents, the public advocate, and the comptroller would each get to choose one member. An updated version of the bill grants the Council speaker the power to appoint the commission’s chair, a change that coincided with Johnson signing on as a co-sponsor and the Council pushing ahead with Friday’s hearing.

James, in her opening statement, lauded the mayor’s intent in creating a commission but said it suffers from the same problems as previous commissions: “predetermined conclusions, a narrow focus on issues within Council authority, and a timeline far too tight to do the job right.” During his State of the City and since, de Blasio has indicated he wants his commission to focus on campaign finance and electoral reform, though he has acknowledged that by law the commission can look at the entirety of the charter.

“The bill you will consider today...is a vehicle for a truly democratic and holistic process,” James said. Although both James and Brewer spoke of changes to the charter that they would be glad to see -- for instance, a stronger role for the Council in city budgeting, a greater voice for communities in land use decisions, enhanced oversight of city agencies -- they emphasized that those were not mandates that their proposed commission would be charged with. (Perhaps the only issue that James said she would not want on the table is changes to term limits for elected officials.) Rather, they would empower a commission to deliberate on the entire charter with ample time to consider the ramifications of any changes -- their commission would make proposals to go on the ballot in 2019.

“Those discussions will not be had if the mayor simply appoints a slate of proxies and tells them what conclusions to reach,” said James, a Democrat like de Blasio, Brewer, and Johnson who is widely expected to run for mayor in 2021.

James and Brewer also sought to dispel the notion that the commission they are proposing would competing with the mayor’s, pointing to the 2019 timeline and noting that they invited the mayor to join their effort. “This does not need to be a zero-sum game, or even a competition,” James said.

Brewer, in particular, emphasized that past commissions had been formed by mayors to fulfil particular agendas and that appointees of the mayor were unlikely to consider proposals that could curb, in any way, the power of the mayor’s office. “I think all of our ideas would benefit from the give and take and compromise that would be necessary in a commission not controlled by any one elected official,” she said.

Council Member Fernando Cabrera, chair of the committee, praised the bill and said he supported it because it was a “far better approach” than the mayor’s. “It will be a charter revision for everyone,” said the Bronx Democrat.   

But, Council Member Kalman Yeger, who was just elected to the Council in November, wasn’t sure about the proposal. “My perspective is that I have some discomfort with outsourcing my work, if you will, to an unelected body of 15 people,” he said, noting that though the speaker may get appointments on a commission, the other 50 Council members would not. He also raised concerns about proposing ballot referenda in 2019, an off-year in the election cycle when voter turnout is expected to be extremely low.

James pushed back against those concerns. “I believe we should democratize this process,” she said, acknowledging that all the stakeholders in the commission would have to work hard to engage voters and generate interest in the revision process.

Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat, also pointed out what is most ironic about the two commissions: that they are being proposed by Democrats who ardently opposed holding a Constitutional Convention to examine the state constitution, which was a question on the ballot last November. Both Brewer and James conceded that though they opposed the ConCon, as it was colloquially called, the charter revision process has sufficient checks and balances, particularly with diverse appointees on a commission.

James also noted that one of the big fears about the ConCon was about the individuals behind the curtain who would control it, which isn’t the case with their proposed commission. “There is no Wizard of Oz in this particular process,” she said. “It’s the Manhattan borough president and Letitia James, who you both know and work with.”

Representatives for the four other borough presidents also testified in support of the bill, as did a number of government reform groups and advocates.

Stanley Fritz, campaigns manager at Citizen Action of New York, encouraged the Council to set aside funds for a public education campaign to engage voters in the charter revision process. The bill currently calls for the Commission to hold at least one hearing in each of the five boroughs and to conduct extensive outreach to civic and community leaders.

Fritz also advocated for amending the bill’s prohibition on appointing lobbyists to the commission, insisting that it should ensure that only lobbyists employed by for-profit entities should be barred, and that those who advocate for non-profits should be allowed to serve. Otherwise, “it would exclude virtually the entire New York City good-government community, including the sorts of advocates who are testifying before you today,” he said.

Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College's School of Public and International Affairs, has also testified before an expert panel of the 2010 Charter Revision Commission created then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. On Friday, he emphasized that any new commission should “articulate clear and compelling goals” related to broad subject areas such as governmental structure and land use, without which it would be directionless. He also said the commission should look at the unfinished business of past commissions, and “beware the unintended consequences,” though he didn’t offer specifics.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the bill was “skeletal” and should add language to ensure that staff of those elected officials making appointments should be excluded from working for the commission. She also questioned why Speaker Johnson would be allowed to appoint the chair of the proposed commission, as opposed to the commission members choosing their own leader.

Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, had a few prescriptions for a potential commission. He said the speaker and mayor should jointly appoint the chair of the commission;  and stressed that the commission should abide by the state’s Freedom of information and Open Meetings laws, and should require public posting of events, materials, reports and archives.

He also suggested that the bill include language requiring commission members and staff to solely use government emails to carry out their work and that any lobbying directed at the commission should be publicly reported.  

Camarda also encouraged the Council and mayor to work together on one commission, warning that two commissions could result in “conflicting policy, public confusion, excessive politicization, inefficiency, and litigation.”

“There is no doubt two commissions convened in the same year would be unprecedented in recent memory and create a high degree of uncertainty,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Council Hears Bill on Charter Revision Commission Fri, 16 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
State Senate’s New Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Criticism http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7463:state-senate-s-new-sexual-harassment-policy-draws-criticism http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7463:state-senate-s-new-sexual-harassment-policy-draws-criticism John Flanagan Senate

Senate Leader John Flanagan (photo: State Senate)


The New York State Senate leadership’s attempt to revamp its sexual harassment policy is drawing criticism from advocates and lawmakers.

Ordered by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, the rewrite enhances protections but also adds a seemingly gratuitous line warning that falsely accusing someone is a “serious act.” It comes amid a national reckoning about workplace harassment, including in government, but also follows a claim made against one of the leading members of the state Legislature, Senator Jeff Klein. Klein, whose Independent Democratic Conference forms a ruling coalition with the Senate majority Republican conference, has vehemently denied forcibly kissing a staff member outside a bar in 2015.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the only female leader of a state legislative conference, expressed dismay at the changes in a statement, saying that the warning to false accusers is evidence that the Senate leadership is not serious about combating sexual harassment.

“To emphasize the punishment for filing a false report while not emphasizing the seriousness of sexual harassment is exactly the type of intimidation that has silenced so many through the years and encourages perpetrators to attack accusers,” said Stewart-Cousins.

Other criticisms of the document center around its use of the word "may" rather than "shall" in places, weak anti-retaliation language, and its failure to designate an independent person to report misconduct to.

These seeming gaps are drawing questions about the motivation for the policy rewrite and who was involved in drafting it. Spokespersons for the Republican conference and the IDC did not respond to a requests for comment on the matter, but Senate Democrats, three of whom serve on the Senate ethics committee, said they were not consulted.

“It just showed up in my staff email two nights ago... I don’t think I even got a direct copy,” said Senator Liz Krueger, who is known for her outspokenness on sexual harassment, during a recent appearance on The Capitol Pressroom radio show. “We could have told them everything that was wrong with it, but no one sought [our advice] in advance.”

An attorney who is frequently contracted to investigate discrimination and harassment claims involving the Senate, said she also had not been consulted, having not seen the documents until Gotham Gazette sent them to her.

“I learned about the new policy when I read about it in the newspaper,” said Pearl Zuchlewski, founding partner of Kraus & Zuchlewski LLP, which has been paid $198,485 by the Senate to investigate personnel claims in 2016 and 2017, according to New York State Comptroller records.

Senate Republicans stand behind the policy change, with a spokesperson saying that “the Senate has taken a strong policy and made it even stronger” and noting that the new version adds more examples of what constitutes sexual harassment, giving employees the ability to report an incident directly to the Senate's personnel officer and making clear that retaliation will not be tolerated.

“The false complaint provision that is being referenced by Senator Stewart-Cousins existed previously and has not been changed in any meaningful way. It is and always has been wrong to make a false complaint,” said Maureen Wren, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans.

While Wren would not provide details of who was involved in drafting, editing, and approving the new harassment policy, Flanagan has repeatedly said recently that he hired an outside firm to work on it, but much remains mysterious about the process.

"I asked for an independent review, we hired outside counsel, we strengthened what we do already in the Senate. I was proud of the work that we did before, we took what we did and just made it better," Flanagan said during a question-and-answer session of a Crain’s New York Business appearance January 25. “Everyone should feel comfortable in their work environment,” he added.

One of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State proposals, which reflects similar legislation proposed by Assembly Member Sandra Galef, aims to create a uniform sexual harassment policy for all government employees, including all three branches of state government.

Currently, the Senate policy covers complaints made against employees of the Senate and the Assembly’s policy covers complaints made against Assembly members and staff, with specific protocol depending on whether a complaint is made against someone working at the Legislature or in district offices. The state’s Joint Committee on Public Ethics, which is made up of Cuomo and legislative appointees, can also investigate a misconduct complaint on its own or with a formal referral from a government entity. Cuomo has proposed adding resources to JCOPE so that it can more quickly and ably conduct misconduct investigations.

Klein asked JCOPE to investigate the claim against him and has indicated such an investigation is underway. Flanagan said the Senate would not investigate because the accuser, Erica Vladimer, had not made a formal complaint within the body.

There are parts of the Senate policy that now more closely resemble the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy, last updated in 2014 after a major scandal, which is a 13-page document widely seen as a gold standard for sexual harassment policies in government.

For example, the section that recommends complainants first communicate their discomfort to the offending party and ask that the behavior stop, now mirrors an italicized line in the Assembly policy emphasizes that while “self help” is recommended it is not required. Another amendment that reflects the Assembly policy, specifies that the claim that alleged misconduct “meant no harm” or was “just a joke” is not an excuse.

However, if the impetus for the policy change was to create more parity between the two legislative houses, a side-by-side reading of the Senate and Assembly sexual harassment policies suggests there is still a long way to go, according to Alexis Grenell, a frequent commentator on government reform and gender issues, and a Democratic political consultant.

"The Senate policy is a weak imitation of the Assembly version, which is much closer to model language and includes no such warning against false reporting,” said Grenell. “No one wants to be sexually harassed or put themselves through the added stress of an investigation, which is why false reporting is so unusual. It's a red herring problem intended to discourage reporting."

The Senate’s new policy also adds a number of protected categories like creed, color, military status, familial status, predisposed genetic characteristics, and domestic violence victim status, but omits gender identity and expression, as noted by Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat.

“I would call it a glaring omission -- a real statement as to the values and priorities of the Senate majority,” said Hoylman, noting that statistically transgender people of all groups are most likely to be targeted in hate crimes.

Hoylman is the prime sponsor of GENDA, or the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act -- which seeks to extend sex discrimination protections to people discriminated against on the basis of gender identity, expression, or transgender status -- but the Senate majority has prevented the bill from reaching the floor.

Many of the gaps cited in the old policy remain in the new version. For example, while the Assembly policy instructs complainants to report incidents to an independent counsel that has been retained, the Senate policy does not provide this avenue for individuals to report misconduct.

Senate complainants are still instructed to report incidents to an immediate supervisor or the immediate supervisor of the offender, the appropriate department head, or to his or her appointing authority.

If the complaint concerns any of those officials, or the complainant is uncomfortable making a report to any of these individuals, he or she may go to the Senate Personnel Officer, or the Secretary of the Senate.

“The concept that you should somehow first report it up the line internal to your office, when the line always goes to a senator, and/or then go to the staff of the majority leader -- also a senator, who frankly has even more reason to want to protect members and the ‘institution’ -- is just wrong,” said Krueger on Capitol Pressroom.

“I actually think this new policy is worse than the old policy and I don’t understand how in 2018 people don’t understand what the problem is and how we can address it,” said Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat.

When describing who will conduct the investigation should one unfold, the language in the Senate policy leaves up to the discretion of Senate leadership whether to hire an independent investigator, by using the word “may” rather than “shall.”

Despite that language, Republicans say that sexual harassment complaints within the Senate are handled independently and that it has been the practice for years.

By contrast, the Assembly policy indicates that the investigation “shall” be conducted by outside lawyers retained by the Assembly, and offers more detail for protecting the confidentiality of all parties involved as well as witnesses interviewed.

“Once you get into the question of what’s going to happen if there is a problem, this policy is not nearly as strong and clear as it needs to be,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of reform group Common Cause, on The Capitol Pressroom last week, speaking with Senator Krueger with host Susan Arbetter.

Other changes to the Senate policy include the addition of a 30-day time limit for both the accused and the accuser to appeal a decision.

The Assembly policy, which also includes a 30 day appeal time limit, has also been praised for taking steps to protect the privacy of accusers when they come forward and ensuring that they do not face retaliation by specifying harsh penalties for such behavior. The Senate’s two-paragraph anti-retaliation section is less specific.

The Assembly approach is not without question. In late 2017, Republican Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin was sanctioned by the Assembly ethics committee for allegedly asking a female Assembly aide for nude photos, lying about it, and then leaking her name to colleagues in the Legislature. At the time, questions were raised about the length of time it took for the investigation to unfold, as by the time McLaughlin faced disciplinary action, he was already on his way out of the Assembly, having been elected Rensselaer County Executive earlier that month.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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State Senate’s New Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Criticism Tue, 06 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Criticized for Failing to Call Special Election January 1 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7399:cuomo-criticized-for-failing-to-call-special-election-january-1 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7399:cuomo-criticized-for-failing-to-call-special-election-january-1 Cuomo Flanagan Long Island

Gov. Cuomo and John Flanagan, right (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


As the legislative session kicks off this week, there are a slew of open state Senate and Assembly seats, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has not indicated when or whether he will call a special election to fill the vacancies.

January 1 was the earliest the second-term governor could have called the election day to fill all 11 vacancies, and a growing number of critics are pressuring Cuomo to make the pronouncement as soon as possible. The election would occur 70 days after declared by Cuomo, who has not made clear if he intends to do so in time for the seats to be filled before the state budget is due, by April 1.

On the first of this month, George Latimer officially vacated his Westchester County Senate seat to take on his new role as Westchester County Executive, which he won in the fall, and Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., of the Bronx, left his Senate seat to assume his newly won City Council position. Nine Assembly seats remain empty for a variety of reasons, including officials who have won other elected posts, like Brian Kavanagh, who moved from the Assembly to the Senate.

If the governor calls a special election this week, 70 days would mean votes cast in the middle of March. However, Cuomo, a Democrat, has indicated that he may call the elections for a date after the budget process is concluded. Cuomo’s delay is being criticized by progressive activists and good government leaders, either because of how the Senate elections factor into majority control of the chamber, which is currently held by a narrow margin by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, or because of the basic lack of representation hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are experiencing with the seats unfilled.

The state’s $160-plus billion budget will be negotiated over the coming months by a heavily Democratic Assembly and the Senate, which has multiple party fractures and a Democratic unity deal on the table that could throw the process into disarray if the two vacant seats are filled by Democrats before April 1.

“The governor has a responsibility to his constituents to call a special election immediately,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of good government group Common Cause NY in a statement on Tuesday. “There’s no excuse to delay.” Lerner stressed that all New Yorkers deserve their due representation in government.

The stakes are highest for the 63-seat Senate, where Democrats are now two seats short of the 32 votes needed to pass legislation. A Democratic majority can only occur if mainline conference members are joined by the nine Democrats who caucus with Republicans, along with Democratic victories for the Latimer and Diaz, Sr. seats. Complicating the situation is a potential deal between Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, brokered by Cuomo and his allies, which would reunify the Democratic conference at the end of the 2018 legislative session, provided multiple developments and guarantees.

The vacancies have less of an impact on the 150-seat Assembly, which Democrats control handily under Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx. But leaving nine vacancies would undermine the state’s democratic budget process and leave millions of New Yorkers without representation, notes Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Group.

According to NYPIRG’s calculation, 625,484 Senate constituents and more than 1.1 million Assembly constituents are unrepresented as the legislative session starts on Wednesday, January 3 in Albany.

Joining the calls for a special election sooner rather than later is Kat Brezler, a public school teacher and former Bernie Sanders organizer who is seeking Latimer’s seat in the event that a special election is called.

“If you, the Governor, do not call a special election before the budget vote, you will effectively disenfranchise more than 700,000 residents in these Districts,” Brezler said in a statement. “Representation matters. The residents of District 37 deserve to have a seat at the table” during budget negotiations. “It is for this reason that a special election cannot wait,” Brezler said.

A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office, when asked whether governor planned to call the election during the legislative session, pointed to the governor’s comments during recent press appearances, when he said he would make a decision in January.

“There are some that want it sooner, some that want it later, there’s some who don’t,” Cuomo told reporters in December. “Some would argue politicizing the budget isn’t the best idea. It’s a decision that we have to make next year in January.”

Bronx Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, who announced that he plans to run for Diaz, Sr.’s Senate seat, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette that he is confident both Senate seats will be filled by Democrats and hopes that a special election will happen in March.

“I think one of the most pressing things in the state Legislature is to continue to push for progressive policies and progressive legislation,” said Sepulveda. “I encourage the governor to call the special election as soon as possible.”

While the Bronx seat is virtually guaranteed to stay Democratic, the Westchester seat is less of a sure thing, though Democrats will have multiple advantages there.

Policy changes coming out of Washington are expected to have serious implications for New York, which is facing a larger than usual budget deficit, and progressives are mounting pressure on the governor, who, like all of the Legislature, is up for reelection this year, to call the special election before budget negotiations really heat up.

The balance of power in the state Senate will have significant influence over the final state spending plan that emerges. A number of Democratic activists insist Cuomo prefers Republican control of the Senate for as long as possible, especially during budget season, so that he can best limit state spending.

Heastie, whose Assembly majority conference is down several members, said in December that he hopes for a Democratic majority in the Senate, but in an interview with WCNY’s Susan Arbetter said that he would defer to the governor’s decision about the election.

“I’ve always said, as a Democrat, I look forward to the day of a Democratic Senate. I hope they get it together as soon as possible — particularly in light of what’s happening in Washington,” Heastie told reporters during a gaggle at the Capitol in December.

In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, wields enormous influence over how state funds are distributed. Flanagan, outlining his priorities for the coming session, struck a conciliatory note, but made clear that raising property taxes was a non-starter for addressing New York’s growing budget shortfall.

“In Washington, Democrats and Republicans battle each other with predictable ferocity -- sometimes producing gridlock and dysfunction, and sometimes producing policies that are counterproductive for many New Yorkers. Here in New York, we’ve taken a vastly different approach,” he said in a Tuesday statement. “We’re working across the aisle to find common ground, partnering with Upstate and suburban Democrats to move our state forward.”

Spokespersons for Heastie and Flanagan did not return requests for comment on when Cuomo should call the special election. The governor will deliver his 2018 State of the State speech on Wednesday in Albany.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo Criticized for Failing to Call Special Election January 1 Tue, 02 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Ahead of Election Day, Comptroller Audit Highlights Board of Elections Dysfunction http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7296:ahead-of-election-day-comptroller-audit-highlights-board-of-elections-dysfunction http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7296:ahead-of-election-day-comptroller-audit-highlights-board-of-elections-dysfunction unnamed 6

Comptroller Scott Stringer (photo courtesy of Comptroller's office)


Just four days before voters head to the polls on Tuesday, November 7, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a damning report highlighting the dysfunctional election operations of the New York City Board of Elections, a quasi-city agency that administers elections in the city.

Stringer’s audit was launched in response to the BOE’s purge of more than 117,000 voters from the rolls in Brooklyn last year, ahead of the April presidential primary. The purge prompted widespread outrage, triggering an investigation by the state Attorney General’s office and a lawsuit by Common Cause New York, a good government advocacy group. The BOE recently admitted to violating federal and state law in the case and agreed to implement reforms.

Following the purge, auditors from the comptroller’s office monitored 156 poll sites over the course of three subsequent elections in 2016 -- the congressional primary in June, the state legislative primary in September and the November general election -- and found that 90 percent of the sample sites showed significant problems ranging from severe violations of election law to inadequate poll worker training and lack of access for people with disabilities.

“We have uncovered deep dysfunction,” Stringer said at a news conference Friday where he released the report.

At 82 sites, about 53 percent, auditors witnessed violations of federal and state election laws and also of the BOE’s own rules. At 14 percent of sites, affidavit ballots were mishandled, and at 10 percent of sites, voters received no assistance when they faced issues. Some poll workers even engaged in electioneering, telling voters which candidate to vote for. Stringer even singled out an “outrageous instance” in which a poll worker failed to notify a voter that their valid ballot had been rejected by a scanning machine. The ballot was marked void.

The BOE failed to adequately staff poll sites, Stringer said, leading to “organizational and logistical chaos” at about 118 sites, or 76 percent. At one site, 41 percent of assigned poll workers did not show up, he noted. Stringer did emphasize that the blame does not fall on poll workers who are “overworked, undertrained and underpaid” and must work nearly 17 hours straight on election days (the state launched a pilot program this year to allow half-day shifts for polling workers). “These are, at their core, the failures of the Board of Elections,” he said.

The audit found that 45 out of 156 polling sites failed to provide adequate assistance to voters with disabilities, with one out of ten sites being inaccessible. “It’s time to own up and fix the voter purge we see in every election,” Stringer said. “This purge happens under the radar...If we’re gonna have participatory democracy, we’ve got to get rid of the barriers to participating in voting.”

New York has notoriously antiquated election laws and consistently lags behind most other states in voter turnout. The state ranked 41 of 50 for turnout in the November general last year. (In the city, which has seen a relatively tame election season this year with many incumbents running for reelection, only about 440,000 voters cast a ballot in the September 12 Democratic primary for mayor, just 14% of registered voters.)

“The right to vote is a bedrock of our democracy, unfortunately our own New York City Board of Elections too often makes it harder for us to exercise those fundamental rights,” said City Council Member Dan Garodnick at Friday’s news conference.

Garodnick called attention to another BOE failing, one he attempted to fix through legislation. For the September 12 primary, the BOE changed poll sites from last year for more than 200,000 voters but did not post notices to inform voters, as required under a law sponsored by Garodnick and passed by the City Council last year. “The Board of Elections does not have the right to pick and choose which local laws it is going to follow,” Garodnick said.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, said the comptroller’s audit “sadly confirms” problems over which good government organizations have long cried foul. “The barriers to voting which incompetence sets up, as the comptroller pointed out, are simply unacceptable,” she said.

Stringer’s report recommended that the BOE implement broader reforms, particularly for poll workers, including more hours of poll worker training, increased poll worker pay, and evaluating the pilot program on half-day shifts. “We haven’t had a new idea on how to run an election in this town in a hundred years, it’s ridiculous, it’s not sustainable,” Stringer said.

“The Comptroller’s audit report once again confirms that the Board of Elections consistently fails the voters in exercising their right to vote,” said Seth Stein, a City Hall spokesperson, in an email. Stein said it was “shameful” that the BOE had to be forced by the courts into accepting reforms, and insisted that the agency needs to be restructured. While the BOE has city jurisdiction, it is controlled by state law, and is not answerable to the mayor.

Stein reiterated that the BOE had refused to accept an offer of $20 million from de Blasio last year as an incentive to reform its operations. “It is essential that they do so now,” he added.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Ahead of Election Day, Comptroller Audit Highlights Board of Elections Dysfunction Fri, 03 Nov 2017 18:54:01 +0000
Max & Murphy on Politics - Podcast http://www.gothamgazette.com/podcasts/max-murphy-on-politics http://www.gothamgazette.com/podcasts/max-murphy-on-politics mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


Max & Murphy on Politics is a podcast hosted by Ben Max of Gotham Gazette and Jarrett Murphy of City Limits. It began in 2016 focused on housing policy and politics when those issues were front and center to city and state politics and government, but it has expanded since. Now, in 2017, we are focused on the city election cycle, heading toward the September primary and November general elections. Find episodes through the links below, or find Max & Murphy wherever you get your podcasts: iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.

Our election coverage began with an overview and preview episode June 1. Then we started to talk with mayoral candidates, with Democrat Bob Gangi on June 12 and Republican Paul Massey June 19. We're following those with Democrat Sal Albanese June 26 and we'll continue from there, also featuring episodes with other political figures and candidates for other offices. Have feedback? Find us on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy.

Queens State Senate Rematch Features Different Kinds of Democrats
(with Senator Tony Avella and challenger John Liu) Queens State Senate Rematch Features Different Kinds of Democrats (with Senator Tony Avella and challenger John Liu) — August 8, 2018
 
Attorney General Candidate Sean Patrick Maloney Attorney General Candidate Sean Patrick Maloney — August 8, 2018
 
marisol alcantara robert jackson state 400 Manhattan State Senate Rematch Centered on Breakaway Democrats — August 1, 2018
 
leecia eve 400px Attorney General Candidate Leecia Eve — July 25, 2018
 
tish james 400px Letitia James & the Attorney General Primary — July 18, 2018
 
zephyr teachout 400 Attorney General Candidate Zephyr Teachout — July 9, 2018
 
rosenthal holtzman pod 400 The Long Fight for New City Sexual Harassment Laws — June 25, 2018
 
gelinas 477 A New Era at The MTA? with Nicole Gelinas — June 21, 2018
 
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul — June 14, 2018
 
fortune society reps for 400 Criminal Justice Reform in New York — June 5, 2018
 
Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — June 1, 2018
 
mxm logo 400px State Party Conventions & Nominations — May 25, 2018
 
pod steph miner 400 163 Stephanie Miner — May 15, 2018
 
joe borelli podcast map 400 City Council Member Joe Borelli — May 7, 2018
 
eric adams m m pod 400px Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams — May 1, 2018
 
Stanley fritz citizen action 400px Political Purity Tests in New York — April 25, 2018
 
susan lerner cc ny 400px Reforming Special Elections & More in Albany — April 17, 2018
 
suing nycha 400 Suing NYCHA — April 10, 2018
 
Marc Molinaro Launches Campaign for Governor Molinaro Launches Campaign for Governor — April 2, 2018
 
Chirlane McCray First Lady Chirlane McCray — March 26, 2018
 
michelle de la uz 400 City Planning Commissioner Michelle de la Uz — March 19, 2018
 
ross barkan senate A Journalist Runs for State Senate — March 13, 2018
 
De Blasio's Progress Fighting Homelessness De Blasio's Progress Fighting Homelessness — March 5, 2018
 
ramos jackson podcast IDC Challengers Robert Jackson & Jessica Ramos — February 26, 2018
 
Jumaane Williams Lieutenant Governor Candidate Jumaane Williams — February 23, 2018
 
feb14 podcast Analyzing De Blasio's State of the City Address — February 14, 2018
 
Deconstructing De Blasio's Visit to Albany Deconstructing De Blasio's Visit to Albany — January 30, 2018
 
bdb mayor hearing 400px De Blasio's 2nd Term Focus on Education — January 30, 2018
 
alex matthiessen move ny 400 Congestion Pricing with Alex Matthiessen of Move New York — January 22, 2018
 
ritchie torres 400px City Council Member Ritchie Torres on The New Council & His New Role — January 17, 2018
 
rivera brannan 400x167 New City Council Members Justin Brannan & Carlina Rivera — January 10, 2018
 
bdb400px Big Political News to Start 2018 — January 3, 2018
 
melissa mark viverito alatriste podium400 City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito — December 15, 2017
 
eric koch 400 Eric Koch, former City Council communications director — December 15, 2017
 
Shola Olayote NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye — December 7, 2017
 
liz crowley podcast 400 City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley — December 5, 2017
 
bill de blasio 2nd term 400px Previewing de Blasio's 2nd term — November 27, 2017
 
bdb voting sign in 400 Analyzing the 2017 Election Results — November 9, 2017
 
mayor bdb 400 10 Things to Think About on Election Day — November 7, 2017
 
mayoral candidates 400 Resetting the Mayoral Race after the Final Debate — November 3, 2017
 
3 mayors stream Akeem Browder, Aaron Commey & Mike Tolkin are Running for Mayor — October 23, 2017
 
brigid at debate nyc votesstream Analyzing the Public Advocate & Comptroller Debates — October 19, 2017
 
debate stage400 Analyzing the First General Election Mayoral Debate — October 11, 2017
 
tish james400 Public Advocate Letitia James — October 2, 2017
 
Michel faulkner Comptroller candidate Michel Faulkner — September 29, 2017
 
jcpolanco 400 Public Advocate Candidate JC Polanco — September 18, 2017
 
gifford miller city council 400px Gifford Miller, former Speaker of the City Council and mayoral candidate — September 11, 2017
 
brigid bergin and ben max400px Brigid Bergin of WNYC radio — September 5, 2017
 
Joseph Viteritti De Blasio Author Joseph Viteritti — August 30, 2017
 
Public advocate Candidate David Eisenbach Public advocate Candidate David Eisenbach — August 28, 2017
 
azi paybarah tv 400px167px Azi Paybarah — August 17, 2017
 
Dr. Christina Greer and Alexis Grenell Representative vs. Substantive Representation, with Dr. Christina Greer and Alexis Grenell — August 15, 2017
 
max murphy katz fullington res The Mayoral Race with Top Political Strategists — July 31, 2017
 
bo dietl Mayoral Candidate Bo Dietl — July 24, 2017
 
nicole malliotakis Republican Mayoral Candidate Nicole Malliotaki — July 13, 2017
 
eric phillips Eric Phillips, press secretary to Mayor Bill de Blasio — July 5, 2017
 
sal albanese Democratic Mayoral Candidate Sal Albanese — June 26, 2017
 
paul massey 

Republican Mayoral Candidate Paul Massey — June 19, 2017 (note: Paul Massey dropped out of the mayoral race on June 28, though the episode is still worth listening to)

 
bob gangi Democratic Mayoral Candidate Bob Gangi — June 12, 2017
 
mxm logo 400px Election Season is Here! — June 1, 2017
 


A variety of earlier episodes of the Max & Murphy Podcast, through the archive, often focused on New York housing policy and politics — see all episodes from the start February 12, 2016 to May 25, 2017

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Max & Murphy on Politics - Podcast Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Punts Voting Reform to ‘After the Budget’ http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6823:cuomo-punts-voting-reform-to-after-the-budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6823:cuomo-punts-voting-reform-to-after-the-budget Cuomo press conference NYC

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo all but confirmed Tuesday that major voting reforms he’s proposed would not be part of the new state budget, which is due by April 1.

In January, Cuomo outlined the “Democracy Project” as part of his 2017 State of the State agenda, and included its widely prized measures like early voting, same-day voter registration, and an enhanced form of automatic voter registration in one of his budget bills. But, on Tuesday Cuomo indicated that the push to modernize New York’s antiquated voting laws would be left for the April through June legislative session that follows budget adoption.

Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has proposed sweeping voting reforms before, and New York has watched as they have been implemented with successful results in dozens of other states, while paltry voter turnout continues here.

On Tuesday, Cuomo appeared at a press conference in New York City, which the governor had called to criticize two Republican congressional representatives from New York for authoring amendments to the federal health plan that would shift certain Medicaid burdens in New York from the counties to the state. During the question-and-answer session, a WNYC reporter asked Cuomo how he would be able to persuade Senate Republicans to adopt his voting reform agenda during budget negotiations.

“We are going to try like heck,” he said, but added, “It’s not necessarily a budget discussion,” conceding a point Cuomo is typically hesitant to make.

“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo continued. “If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about we are going to take up after the budget.”

Between now and April 1, Cuomo and legislative leaders will negotiate the details of the new state budget. The Governor sets the stage for budget season with his Executive Budget in January, which is then followed by legislative hearings, one-house budget resolutions that respond to the Governor’s proposals, and closed-door negotiations. The spending and policy pieces that make it into the budget often depend upon how much priority agenda items are given by the Governor, the Senate Majority, and the Assembly Majority.

Cuomo, as the most powerful of the “three men in the room,” can often push through his top priorities, as he did last year with $15 minimum wage and paid family leave programs.

In January, Cuomo announced the Democracy Project in a press release amid his six-stop State of the State tour. The goal, Cuomo's announcement stated, was “modernizing voting in New York to increase participation in the democratic system.” The Democracy Project “will remove barriers to voter registration" and "make voting easier for New Yorkers.”

“Early voting will shorten lines at the polls,” the announcement stated, “allow New Yorkers to cast ballots up to 12 days before Election Day.” It also promised that automatic and same-day voter registration “will increase voter participation.”

While Democrats who control the Assembly appear open to the three voting reforms, among others, they do not appear to be placing it especially high on their list of priorities. Republicans who control the state Senate are opposed to voting reform, worrying that greater turnout could spell the end of their paper-thin majority margin.

Two of the three reforms, early voting and automatic registration, are widely implemented throughout the country, and would be easy to implement legislatively, but have stalled in the Senate. Along with the Assembly majority, the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats who have a ruling coalition with Republicans, also support the measures. However, the IDC’s power to move the GOP conference in this case may be especially limited.

Same-day voter registration, which would allow unregistered voters to register and vote on Election Day, would likely have to be implemented through a state constitutional amendment, which requires the approval of both legislative houses for two consecutive legislative cycles and then approval by the public through a ballot vote.

Last week, representatives from advocacy groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Working Families Party, and Common Cause NY joined with female state lawmakers at the state Capitol to push for early voting and automatic registration to be included in the budget. The press conference, which coincided with Women’s History Month and framed voter inclusion as a women’s issue, was followed by a rally on Sunday in New York City’s Battery Park.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, who helped organized the press conference and the rally, criticized the governor’s Tuesday revelation.

“It's not enough to ‘try like heck,’” Lerner said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve the same rights as voters in Alaska and Vermont. We need voting reform now, and that means including funding in the 2017 budget to ensure that the next election cycle is an example for the nation, not a national embarrassment."

Lerner noted that New York ranked 41st in the nation for voter turnout (based on the 2016 presidential election), with less than a third of eligible voters participating. “Far from the progressive symbol the Governor likes to tout, we are out of step with 34 other states that have some form of early voting, and nowhere near California which also has Automatic Voter Registration,” Lerner said.

On Tuesday Cuomo did not cast blame on anyone for what he was foreshadowing as a failure to move voting reform through the budget. At the press conference, however, he did tout how well he has been able to work with Republicans over the past six years. He did not indicate that he planned to try to convince Senate Republicans to back his voting reform agenda.

A few days ago, Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans, told WNYC radio, "There are many bills out there which seek to boost voter participation. We'll take a look at all of them."

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by Ben Max and Rachel Silberstein

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo Punts Voting Reform to ‘After the Budget’ Tue, 21 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Embraces Voting Reform Agenda, But Implementation Poses Challenges http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6724:cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6724:cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges Cuomo voting 2015

Gov. Cuomo voting (photo: The Governor's Office on flickr)


During his State of the State tour early this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of major reforms hailed as important steps toward modernizing New York’s antiquated electoral system and increasing the state’s paltry voter turnout. While they are long-called for proposals that many are pleased to see Cuomo promote, implementing these goals could be more complicated than it may seem.

Two of the three reforms, early voting and automatic voter registration, were outlined in Cuomo’s 2016 agenda, but the initiatives failed to move through the Legislature last year due to opposition from Senate Republicans, who control that chamber. It is a power structure that continues into the 2017 session, meaning the road to passage is uphill, and steeply so.

New York is one of only about a dozen states without some semblance of early voting. While the state already has a form of automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles, Cuomo’s proposal is to streamline and expand the practice. If passed, it would amount to more widespread automatic registration, but not universal.

The third electoral proposal from Cuomo, same-day registration, will likely require a constitutional amendment -- meaning approval from two consecutive classes of the state Legislature, then voters via ballot referendum -- a process that would take at least three years. There is some debate among constitutional law experts over whether such an amendment is required for any form of same-day registration, which would allow voters to show up at the polls to both register and vote on the same day.

The three reforms are almost universally seen as long overdue in New York. Voter turnout in New York is especially poor: in 2014, the state ranked 49th of the country’s 50 states. While New York has watched many other states change voting laws to increase access to the ballot, the voter turnout deficit here is growing progressively worse, with just 19.7 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots in the 2016 presidential primaries. Turnout numbers have also consistently declined during gubernatorial elections and, in New York City, during mayoral election years.

“New York is so far behind the curve on election administration that almost anything is an improvement,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of government reform group Common Cause New York. “I think the governor has picked issues that are very good places to start.”

Those with high praise for Cuomo’s 2017 electoral agenda include Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who, after monitoring the state’s four election days of 2016, issued an exhaustive report with areas for reform at the end of the year.

"I commend Governor Cuomo for proposing common sense reforms to our voting system. I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo, the legislature, and everyday New Yorkers across our state to address the systemic problems in New York's voting laws,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “New York must become a national leader in voting rights by expanding and protecting the rights of all New Yorkers to cast their vote.”

In the statement, Schneiderman also recommended consolidating New York's exhausting voting schedule into a single primary. In 2016, there were three: in April for the presidential race; in June for congressional races; and in September for state legislative races.

While it is still early to speculate exactly how the Legislature will respond to Cuomo’s electoral reform agenda, there are key early markers, process details, and implementation questions ahead of whatever policy debate may occur.

One thing is certain: Democrats in the Assembly, where they have the majority, and in the Senate, where they do not, will be behind the election and voting modernization efforts -- including and beyond Cuomo’s three main proposals. What is less clear is whether the governor will fully push for early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day registration in budget negotiations, which are just beginning; and whether there is any room for passage in the Republican-controlled Senate, perhaps with the help of the Independent Democratic Conference -- the seven-member body that has formed a ruling coalition with the Senate GOP.

Early Voting
When it comes to early voting, New York is one of just 13 states without some window wherein voters can cast ballots before Election Day.

For several years running, an early voting bill has passed the Assembly, only to be blocked in the Senate.

According to Gov. Cuomo’s 2017 proposal, every county would offer residents access to at least one early voting poll site for every 50,000 residents during the 12 days leading up to Election Day. Voters would be guaranteed eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends to cast early ballots, and bipartisan county boards of elections would determine locations of the early poll sites.

While high voter participation would ideally be a bipartisan issue, New York Republicans -- who cling to control of the state Senate by a tiny margin -- have calculated that better ballot access and more participation is likely to turn out Democratic voters, according Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens and outspoken proponent of voting reform.

“These reforms are more necessary than ever and I’m glad they were included in the governor’s presentation, but the problem is Senate Republicans seem to have a personal interest in keeping people from voting,” said Gianaris, a co-sponsor of several packages of electoral legislation. “That's been the biggest hurdle to overcome, because voter restrictions tend to benefit them.”

A spokesperson for Senate Republicans did not return multiple requests for comment.

A natural partner of early voting is absentee voting. In his State of the State policy book, Gov. Cuomo, a second term Democrat, also cited the requirement for absentee ballot voters to provide an excuse, which is written into the state constitution and its removal would require a constitutional amendment.

A bill to remove this requirement from the constitution has passed the Assembly and is, like other voting reforms, awaiting Senate approval.

Senator Joseph Addabbo, who co-sponsored the bill and served as chair of the Senate Election Committee in 2009, said his staff has not looked closely at the governor’s plan yet but expressed hopeful optimism about the governor’s electoral reform agenda.

“I’ll say I can embrace a lot of what he’s proposing and now our legal counsel might look at whether and how it can be implemented,” said Addabbo, a Democrat from Queens. “This is a lot of what we’ve worked on and proposed in 2009. We really go through painstaking measures to determine what is going to get voters to vote.”

In addition to persuading the Senate majority, Cuomo and Assembly Democrats will have to hash out the details with counties, which, while supportive of early voting, want the governor to include a provision for who would foot the bill -- approximately $3 million per year, according to one estimate -- for the additional polling options.

"Despite principled visions on the issue, on the fiscal nature of the cost shift it's unconscionable for the state to be shifting and enacting policies these days in the property-tax-cap era. It should be dead on arrival." Stephen Acquario, executive director of the state Association of Counties, told the USA Today Network.

Automatic Voter Registration
Automatically registering voters when they become eligible or when they come into contact with government agencies is a fairly new concept. Since 2015, automatic voter registration -- which can have different forms and meanings short of universal automatic registration of voters once they become eligible -- has been approved in six states with strong bipartisan support and is taking off across the country, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

The idea is to shift the onus of registering from the individual to the government. In addition to increasing voter registration in other states, automatic voter registration has been shown to have significant benefits for administrators, reduce costs, and improve the accuracy of electronic poll books.

Cuomo’s proposal, recycled from last year, would automatically register anyone who comes into contact with a state Department of Motor Vehicles, unless the person chooses to opt out. Currently, eligible voters can register through the DMV, but they must provide additional voting information as they apply for DMV services.

Cuomo’s proposed version of automatic registration is preferable to similar bills passed in Oregon and California, which only registers eligible citizens who apply for or renew a driver’s license. However, Cuomo’s plan is not as inclusive as say, that which is outlined in New York’s Voter Empowerment Act, sponsored by Senator Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, which would enable a variety government agencies to automatically register voters.

The Brennan Center outlines four ways that states can modernize their electoral systems with automatic registration. The first, of course, is by automatically registering anyone who interacts with government offices, unless the person declines registration. The second is portability, which ensures that registered voters remain on the voter rolls even after they move within the state. The third, online access, allows voters to register, check, and update their registration records through a web portal. And fourth, the state should provide a “safety net,” that allows citizens to correct errors on the voter rolls or register before and on Election Day.

Ideally, automatic registration would occur through many different state-run agencies, reaching well beyond the DMV to the the widest possible segment of eligible voters. There is a sizeable population, especially in urban centers like New York City, that does not drive or interact with the DMV. Broader automatic registration would include:

DMVs; Medicaid and public assistance offices; colleges and high schools; military recruiters and other military offices; unemployment and other public benefit offices; firearm licensing agencies; immigration offices; government-funded job-training centers; law enforcement and corrections agencies that interact with people who regain their voting rights after a criminal conviction.

Some community groups have raised concerns that tying automatic voter registration to the DMV alone may skew registration number in favor of areas with high rates of car ownership, disproportionality impacting upstate voters over New York City, for example.

Researchers at the Brennan Center are exploring whether data can shed light on the concern that automatic registration through the DMV advantages some groups over others.

“We recognize that this is a serious concern for some important groups and we want to take a close look at this question,” said Chisun Lee, senior counsel at the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “We are hopeful that the net benefits for increasing the franchise, and reaching voters who otherwise wouldn't be enrolled, will be positive for all.”

Same-Day Voter Registration
Same-day voter registration, perhaps the boldest of Cuomo’s proposals, would allow New Yorkers to register and vote on the same day.

Currently, New Yorkers must register to vote 25 days prior to an election, though the state constitution's requirement is only ten days. Depending on how it would be implemented, same-day registration may require a constitutional amendment. However, if early voting is passed, there are legal experts who argue that the constitution would allow same-day registration for those who vote prior to ten days before Election Day.

Again, a constitutional amendment is typically at minimum a three-year process which would require two “yes” votes from consecutive Legislatures and the passage of referendum on the following year’s general election ballot.

Alternately, a “yes” vote on the constitutional convention referendum, which will be on the ballot this November, could provide another avenue to remove restrictions and institute reforms like same-day registration.

At this point, 13 states and the District of Columbia have same-day voter registration, and California, Vermont, and Hawaii have approved the provision, though it has not yet been implemented, according to Cuomo’s office.

The upcoming opportunity to amend the state constitution via constitutional convention, which, for New Yorkers, appears as a ballot referendum every 20 years will be November 7, 2017. A constitutional convention is a four-year public process that could result significant changes to the entire document and laws of the state. If New Yorkers say “yes” to a convention on this year’s ballot, a year later, voters will select delegates to participate in the convention; the following year, in 2019, the convention will convene; and voters will be able to vote on any proposed changes the following Election Day.

Like with the electoral and voting reforms Gov. Cuomo has proposed, he has expressed varying degrees of support for a "yes" vote on a constitutional convention, but whether the governor takes significant action will go a long way toward determining the outcome.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo Embraces Voting Reform Agenda, But Implementation Poses Challenges Sun, 22 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000