The Public and the Charter
April 7th, 2010

The Charter Revision Commission held its first public hearing last night and, if the speakers on hand are representative of city residents (and they probably aren’t) it seems New Yorkers have both high hopes and low expectations for what the group might accomplish.

Before a fairly sparse crowd at CUNY graduate center, a mix of elected officials, Independence Party representatives and others came to the microphone to urge the commission to adopt their favorite causes. Several issues emerged: increasing the role of the public in government matters and nonpartisan elections.

The nonpartisan election fans, many allied with the Independence Party — have reason for optimism. The party and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who appointed all the members of the charter commission, have a long history together: Bloomberg has given the party lots of money, and the party has given him its ballot line. And Bloomberg is an enthusiastic fan of nonpartisan elections. On the down side, city voters overwhelmingly rejected that idea in 2003.

That, though, Independence Party chair Lenora Fulani said, should not stop the charter commission from trying again to alter a system that she said disenfranchises the many New Yorkers who do not register as members of either major political party. Any significant change, she said, takes time and many attempts.

“Our city is ruled by a small subset of voters who select the public officials who hold power over the rest of us,” said Harry Kresky, counsel to the New York Independence Party and a member of the 2002 charter commission. He wants the city to adopt a system where the top two vote getters in a nonpartisan primary, regardless of party, compete against each other, head to head, in what we now consider the general election.

Most of the other speakers advocated for changes that they said would give the people a greater voice in government — land use decisions, in particular. Calling for a charter commission that “will engage the people of this city much more deeply than ever before,” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio ticked off a list of items on his agenda: a more independent Civilian Complaint Review Board for the police department, greater checks and balances on city government, more parental involvement in education and an expanded role for the City Council.

“Allow the city to be governed by its people,” urged Erlene Fisher , a member of Community Voices Heard.

Many speakers wondered whether a commission selected by a mayor who prides himself on his top down management style would actually put “everything on the table” as Bloomberg has promised and give the public a genuine chance to shape its recommendations.

Several saw the short notice for last night’s meeting — announced only last week — as a harbinger of possible trouble down the road.

Attributing the relatively low turnout last night to the lack of notice, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said, “By any standard of activism, this is a pretty lame crowd, and we have to do better.”

While praising commission chair Matthew Goldstein, the chancellor of City University, and the panel’s members, Stringer said, “Based on the activity of the past month, however, some are suggesting that only proposals that serve to check off a political box will emerge from this commission.”

Calling for more meetings — some perhaps focused on particular issues — Assemblymember Jim Brennan, who has introduced legislation to change the charter revision process, called upon the commission to delay its recommendations until next year and to “genuinely and authentically” engage the public.

As the meeting drew to a close, commission members said there would be many more meetings in the weeks ahead — beyond those already announced. (For a list of those scheduled, go here). One member, Hope Cohen, said the commission had to do a better job of alerting the public of meetings — and needed to inform the public about “what the opportunities are here” to change things in the city.

The commission, Goldstein said, would launch “an extensive effort to reach deep into the bedrock of viewpoints in this city.”

Its next effort at that will be next Monday in the Bronx.

By on April 7, 2010, 10:51 am
In category: City Hall,Gotham City,Governing | 3 Comments »

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3 Responses to “The Public and the Charter”

  1. Matt Cowherd Says:
    April 7th, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Tonight, the New Kings Democrats will meet in Brooklyn to discuss the Charter Revision Commission and how we can make our voices heard on the ballot in November. Go to for more info.

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