1. CAMPAIGN FINANCE: The city's landmark campaign finance program is now 13 years old.
a) What is your assessment of how the program is working? What changes, if any, would you seek in that law?
b) In 1998, the law was amended in several ways. These include a four-to-one match of smaller contributions from city residents; a ban on corporate contributions; a requirement that candidates disclose if contributors are doing business with the city; and a requirement that political action committees register with the board to qualify as contributors. What is your opinion of the impact of these changes?
There is nothing I have done in public life of which I am prouder than
the role I played in the drafting, negotiating and enacting of the City's
1998 campaign finance reforms. On election night in November, 1997, I
stated that one of my prime goals for my second term as Public Advocate was
to reform the City's campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of large
donations and level the playing field for all candidates. In January, 1998,
I honored that commitment by drafting and introducing two bills, which
increased the matching formula, reduced the maximum contributions and banned
corporate donations to those participating in the program. The laws enacted
in October 1998 (over the Mayor's veto) were amended versions of those two
bills. Earlier this year, when the Mayor sued to invalidate the 4-1 match, I
was lead intervenor in a motion in support of the 4-1 match. That suit,
fortunately, was mooted by the Council's enactment of a clarifying piece of
We won't know the full impact of the 1998 reforms until the data from the
current election cycle is fully reported. But so far, all the news is good.
The City's campaign finance program is a model for the nation, and it has
indeed revolutionized our system of financing campaigns. More candidates,
from a wider range of backgrounds, are running for office and there has also
been a distinct shift in the size and type of donations, with a larger
percentage of smaller donations. The ceilings on the amounts that may be
spent for each office have leveled the playing field to a degree never done
before -- with the exception, of course, of candidates who choose to finance
their own races rather than joining the system. So long as Buckley v. Valeo
remains the law of the land, that inequity will be difficult to overcome, but
I believe there is now growing public approval of spending limits -- and
skepticism about candidates who refuse to accept them.
Here are a few changes I would recommend to improve the system further:
a) Provide earlier and more frequent reporting and disclosure during
the election year of the candidates' contributions and expenditures. The
public has a right to more timely information.
b) Enact "pay to play" restrictions on contributions to trustees of the
City's five pension funds by key players at companies that advise about,
manage, or invest City pension funds -- or seek to do so. The recently
introduced bill in the City Council was, in my view, a good start but needs
c) Take steps to ensure sufficient resources and political independence
for the Campaign Finance Board. During the past two years, after the Board
opined that the 4-1 match would be enforced, the Board was repeatedly
threatened with being moved out of its offices into smaller, less desirable
quarters, and the Board's budget was cut. As mayor, I would design methods
of insulating the Board from such retaliatory, politically motivated threats.
2. ETHICS RULES: The city charter's conflicts of interest rules were last revised in 1988.
a) What changes, if any, do you support in the city's current conflicts of interest provisions?
b) The charter's "revolving door" rules prohibit former city employees from representing paying clients before their former agency for one year after leaving city service. Similar revolving door prohibition on the state level is for two years; five years on some federal level. Do you believe the city's current revolving door provisions are adequate?
The City's Conflicts of Interest rules are excellent. With minor
exceptions, I believe they have worked quite well. My suggested changes:
a) Effective enforcement depends in large part on sufficient funding,
insulation from political influence and the Board's control over their own
investigations. Some consideration should be given to establishing a
minimum set budget for the Board -- as exists for the Independent Budget
Office -- and to providing the Board with subpoena power to handle its own
investigations, at least in smaller cases. At present, the Board must always
rely on the Department of Investigation, which is headed by a mayoral
b) "Pay to Play" -- I would explore whether "pay to play" rules governing
campaign contributions to fiduciaries of the City's pension funds could or
should be included in the Conflicts of Interest Rules.
c) "Revolving Door" -- The City's one-year revolving door rule should be
increased to 2 years, similar to the State's. For former employees who had
served in high level executive roles, I would also prohibit both appearances
and lobbying by the employee and the employee's spouse before any mayoral agen
cy -- not only the agency where the employee worked.
d) Use of City resources -- City Charter § 1136.1 should be amended to
prohibit the use of government funds for public advertisements or mass
mailings by City officials who are running for any elective office --
including state or federal positions. (Current law covers only candidates
for City office). I would also ban more than one mass mailing with public
funds by a Council candidate and more than two for a citywide candidate
during the entire election year. (The law now applies only 30 days before the
3. CITY HALL STEPS: There has been an ongoing controversy on access to City Hall and its steps, with Mayor Giuliani
citing security concerns to impose a permit system for groups seeking to hold news conferences and other events on the steps and plaza area.
What would be your policy on the use of City Hall for these activities? Do you support, oppose or have another position on the current
permitting regulations? A bill -- Intro 657-A -- is pending in the City Council to suspend the permitting requirements for groups under a certain
number. Do you support, oppose or have another position on the bill?
I have strenuously protested the Mayor's restrictions
on the use of the City's "Hyde Park." I oppose any restrictions on the use
of City Hall steps except ordinary "time, place and manner" restrictions
consistent with Supreme Court precedents, which would include restrictions
based on evidence of a threat to public safety. I have always opposed the
permitting requirements for use of City Hall steps and plaza and have joined
numerous protests on that issue. I articulated that position in testimony bef
ore the City Department of Citywide Administrative Services on April 22,
4. CROSSWALKS: In 1993, the city created the Crosswalks channels, which cablecasts the public activities of the mayor,
City Council, other officials and city agencies.
a) What, if any, changes would you make in Crosswalks coverage and operations?
b) In recent years, the city has used its Crosswalks channels in a variety of ways. These include cablecast of track races to assist the Off Track Betting Corporation; leasing the channels to commercial foreign language program; and for CUNY television. Would you continue these uses? What other kind of programming would you envision for Crosswalks?
Crosswalks is a valuable resource that's grossly underused.
It should be imaginatively redesigned to satisfy the government-junkies
among us and also provoke public interest in government for everyone else --
by focusing on the nuts and bolts of government decision-making on issues
that affect every day life and on debates on hot issues of the day. Gotham
Gazette is a wonderful example of how that has been done on the Internet.
Crosswalks should be the City's C-SPAN, covering City Council meetings
and hearings, local neighborhood forums, and City agency hearings and public
forums. I would continue to oppose use of Crosswalks for commercial purposes
- as I did in 1999 when I joined other elected officials in an amicus curiae
brief opposing the use of Crosswalks by Fox News and Bloomberg TV in the
federal lawsuit, Time Warner, et al., v. Giuliani.
5. PUBLIC INFORMATION: The 1989 charter created a Commission on Public Information and Communication, chaired by the Public
Advocate. It mission includes: reviewing city information policies and the use of new communications technologies for the city; and issuing
advisory opinions on Open Meetings and Freedom of Information requests. It has not been funded since 1991 and has rarely met in recent years.
a) What role, if any, do you see COPIC serving during the next four years?
b) What other steps would you take to assist New Yorkers in obtaining information about government activities and services?
I have spent 7-1/2 years battling the current administration's policy of
wrongly (and sometimes illegally) withholding information from the public and
from other elected officials, including myself. One of the first things I
would do as Mayor is change the entire tone at City Hall so government is an
open book -- unless safety, security or privacy dictates otherwise. I would
make sure every City Commissioner understands and complies with the Freedom
of Information Law and I would end the system of "government by enemies list"
-- where disfavored officials or groups are iced out of meetings, forums, and
access to information.
COPIC (the Commission on Public Information and Communication): Despite
my designation as COPIC's chairperson, I have been unable to effectuate its
purposes as specified in the Charter -- due to the complete absence of any
funding since I was elected as Public Advocate. I lent my staff at various
times to convene meetings and, in 1998, to write, publish and distribute
under COPIC's name (with Public Advocate funds) a guide to the Freedom of
Information Law and the State Open Meetings law. ("Let the Sunshine In").
Without funding, however, it's been difficult to update the booklet's phone
numbers or to produce other valuable guides for citizens. Last year, I was
not even able to get the Mayor and other elected officials to appoint their
designees to the COPIC board.
As Mayor, I would use COPIC as intended -- to be the City version of the
State Committee on Open Government (Public Officers Law § 100 et seq). COPIC
should (a) have a reasonable annual budget line (b) issue a Public Data
Directory each year -- as prescribed by Charter § 1062 (we tried for years to
get the information for such a directory, but the Mayor's office never made
it available to us), and (c) issue advisory opinions on access to information
requests from City agencies, as the Charter prescribes.
I would also rely very extensively on increasing access to government
through the Internet. My office was the first in the City to establish a
government website, and in May, 1999, I issued a report entitled Municipal
Government Online: How NYC Can Become the Internet City. The report urged
NYC to furnish a wide variety of government information on line, including,
for example -- as several other cities do -- neighborhood-by-neighborhood
crime data, anti-corruption data on contractors, and data on residential home
sales. We also need many more public Internet terminals ( in community
boards, libraries, public buildings), as well as low-cost private ones. If
you can hop into a low-cost "internet cafe" in dozens of small cities all
over Mexico and Central America, why not in NYC?
6. WHISTEBLOWERS: What additional protections, if any, would you support to protect city employees who report government
corruption, waste or inefficiency?
In 1995 -- and again in 1998 -- Council member Stan
Michaels and I introduced a bill in the City Council to significantly expand
and strengthen NYC's whistleblower law. The bill protected City employees
who report gross mismanagement or waste of public funds -- in addition to
criminal conduct and corruption, which are covered in the current law. The
bill also set a strict timetable for the Department of Investigation (DOI) to
investigate the whistleblower's complaint, required DOI to report its
progress and final determination to the whistleblower, and defined the
standard for determining the validity of the complaint -- particularly
relevant in a "mixed motive" case. Most important, the law would have
required remedial action for whistleblowers punished for reporting, and it
imposed sanctions against a supervisor who has retaliated against a
whistleblower. Unfortunately, a Council committee never sent the bill for a
In 1995, I also introduced a local "False Claims Act" (or "qui tam")
bill in the City council. Modeled after the federal False Claims Act, it
would provide financial incentives to City employees who expose major fraud,
corruption or waste of government assets.
7. CONTRACTING: New York City purchases more than $7 billion a year in goods and services. The new charter made sweeping
changes in the way the city contracts, placing basic authority for the award of city contracts with the office of the mayor. What steps have you
taken and would you take to insure efficient and ethical city contracting?
In 1994, I issued a detailed report and held a public
hearing on the need to make New York City a better consumer. The Citizens
Budget Commission highlighted our recommendations as a way of saving the City
hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Since then, my office has conducted
a series of investigations on problems with City and MTA contracts,
including an expose of the City's purchase of rotten food for homeless
shelters and day care centers and a recent discovery that HRA is planning to
contract for home care services with two companies with serious histories of
Medicaid and/or Medicare fraud.
I strongly support legislation that would allow the City to
pre-qualify contractors before they are permitted to bid on a City contract.
Similarly, I support an effort to create a single centralized agency to
assess contractors' ethical responsibility.
8. DEPARTMENT OF INVESTIGATION: The Commissioner of Investigations serves at the pleasure of the mayor. Some have argued that
granting the commissioner a fixed term would increase their independence; others have said that it is important for the commissioner to be fully
accountable to a mayor and thus removable when necessary. Do you support, oppose or have another position on having the commissioner serve
for a fixed term?
I support granting the Commissioner of
DOI a fixed term of office. It is far more difficult for a Commissioner who
serves solely at the pleasure of the Mayor to be truly independent and
impartial -- particularly when faced with an allegation of corruption against
a high up mayoral official or agency. In addition, DOI does the
investigations for the Conflicts of Interest Board, placing that Board at the
whim of current politics as well. In 1994 I introduced a bill in the City
Council calling for the creation of a panel of the Mayor, the Comptroller and
the Chair of the Conflicts of Interest Board to appoint the DOI Commissioner
for a term of 5 years and permitting removal of the Commissioner only for
cause by a majority vote of the panel.
9. PRIVATE FUNDS: There has been continuing controversies about the use of private funds in government projects.
a) Past mayors have set up private corporations to solicit funds for summit meetings, travel abroad, parades, inaugurations and other events. What is your view on the appropriate role for the use of private funds to support these initiatives?
b) City parks officials came under fire for requiring groups wishing to use parks for private events to pay differing fees to benefit a private parks foundation. How would you handle this situation?
Private funding to supplement City work can be
extremely valuable and I have used it effectively to increase the Public
Advocate's services to children and families. In 1995 I created C-PLAN --
Child Planning and Advocacy Now -- which has grown over the years into a high
regarded, specialized child welfare ombudsman unit that works in partnership
with my government office. Without private foundation funding, my office
could not have afforded the skilled social work assistance and the numerous
research, investigative and policy studies of the child welfare system and
the Family Court that C-PLAN has provided
I believe, however, that there are dangers to private funding that must
be avoided. First, the work of an affiliated private entity must clearly
serve legitimate government purposes. Second, the sources of the funds and
their use should be subject to public release. Third, private entities must
be publicly accountable in essential ways. They should not be used to shield
the government from public view or accountability. Fourth, there should be a
strict set of rules and a fixed fee schedule for private use of public
facilities such as use of the parks for special events and the use of
athletic fields and facilities for sporting events.
10. POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT: What are or would be your guidelines for insuring that government staff and resources
not be abused for political campaign purposes?
Preventing use of government staff for
political campaigns is a difficult but important challenge in an electoral
system. The Conflicts of Interest rules -- and effective education,
training and enforcement -- are most likely the best way to address the
problem. Government staff should be urged to check regularly with the
Conflicts of Interest Board about any questionable activity, and should be
encouraged to attend COB forums and educational seminars. I also recommend
-- as stated in No. 2 above, -- that the use of government mailings during
election years be strictly curtailed and that pay to play rules be adopted
for pension fund trustees who are elected officials.
11. VOTER REGISTRATION: Nearly two million New Yorkers who are eligible to vote are not registered to vote. In 2000, the
city enacted a Pro-Voter law to strengthen voter registration activities by city agencies, including the non-partisan Voter Assistance Commission.
As mayor, what steps would you take to encourage voter registration and participation? What role do you see for the Voter
I was a prime sponsor of the Pro-Voter bill and as
a member of the Voter Assistance Commission, have worked long and hard (but
so far unsuccessfully) since 1994 to make that entity an effective advocate
for increased registration. While I am very pleased that the Mayor agreed at
my urging to allocate new funds to VAC, I am extremely disappointed in the
slow pace of any VAC reforms and the weak implementation, if any, of the
Pro-Voter bill. Last week I wrote to VAC urging a much stronger set of
guidelines for City agencies to use in assisting citizens to register and
insuring that their registration forms are timely forwarded to the Board of
12. INDEPENDENT BUDGET OFFICE: Both former Mayor Dinkins and Mayor Giuliani opposed establishing an Independent Budget
Office, saying it was unnecessary despite civic and editorial support for the office. The IBO was eventually set up in 1995 by court order.
Do you support, oppose or have another position on the continued existence of the IBO?
I was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit
that forced the City to establish and fund the IBO in 1996 -- over the
opposition of the Mayor, the Comptroller and the City Council -- and played a
very active role in the litigation strategy and in the selection of the IBO
Director. In 1998, I was again a plaintiff in a successful lawsuit that
forced the Mayor and the Comptroller to provide the IBO with information it
required to complete its work.
I believe those efforts by my office have paid off ten-fold. The IBO has
been an enormous asset to the City and has provided invaluable, sophisticated
budget analyses and fiscal information to the public at large, the press,
community groups and elected officials.
13. ELECTIONS: What steps would you take as mayor to improve and modernize how city elections are run by the Board of
First and foremost, the Board of Elections must have
sufficient funding to make a series of long-overdue, essential reforms. It
must replace the current outdated voting machines with new technology,
increase the salaries (and create split shifts) for the inspectors who work
at the polling places, increase poll inspector training and supervision, and
hire more and better equipped mechanics (e.g., -- with cell phones) to solve
machine problems on election day. My counsel has been participating in
meetings of the Mayor's Task Force on Election Reform and it is clear that
with open seats in so many offices, and the use of a new vote-scanning
machine, the Board of Elections will face enormous hurdles in the upcoming
election. It is essential that the Board have adequate resources to meet
those challenges so NYC does not become another Florida.
In 1996, following a problem with voting machines at many polling places
in Brooklyn, I issued a report, which made a series of longer-range
recommendations. I urged the establishment of a professional, non-partisan
Board of Elections, more like the Campaign Finance board than our current
bifurcated, bi-partisan Board of Elections. I believe that is a critical
change that the State Legislature should address.
14. TERM LIMITS: Term limits for all elected officials are due to take effect his year. Do you support, oppose or have
another position on the city's term limits law?
I have consistently supported term limits for executive
offices but opposed it for the legislature/City Council. I do not believe
any effort should be made at this time to overturn those limits, however,
since they have been resoundingly supported by popular referenda on two
occasions in recent years. I was strongly opposed to the effort this past
year to overturn those referenda by legislation. We will learn a lot in the
next four years about the impact of term limits -- after which the issue might
be ripe again for study.