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Push Launched to Get Voters to Choose Ranked-Choice Voting

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(photo: @commoncauseny)

A coalition of elected officials, business and labor leaders, and reform groups gathered Thursday in Lower Manhattan to launch a campaign to convince New York City voters to change the way they elect their representatives in city government.

Voters in New York City this fall will have the opportunity to approve ballot referenda on a number of reforms to the City Charter, including a new election system known as “ranked-choice voting.” The new system would allow voters in primary and special elections -- but not general elections -- to rank up to five candidates on the ballot rather than choosing just one, which advocates say will force candidates to reach a larger base, eliminate so-called “spoiler” candidates, ensure winners have a broad mandate, and save the city millions in costly runoff elections.

The coalition, Rank the Vote, which formed to promote the new voting method, held a press conference on the steps of Federal Hall Thursday morning, just over six weeks from this year’s Election Day, which is Tuesday, November 5. Speakers discussed the possibility of overhauling city elections and what they believe is the importance of voting yes on the ranked-choice voting ballot referendum, which will be the first of the five charter revision questions on the ballot.

“Ranked-choice voting is a system that will help voters choose the candidate who has the broadest base of support, because all too frequently what we find is that the winner in these crowded fields is chosen with much less than a 50 percent majority,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York, as she kicked off the press conference. “It’s not as healthy for our democracy as it needs to be.”

Ranked-choice voting is in effect in a few cities like San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Santa Fe, and Maine is projected to use the method in the upcoming presidential elections. Under a ranked-choice voting system, voters choose candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority of votes on the first count, the candidate with the least support is eliminated and ballots for them are redistributed to their voters’ second choices. That process is continued until a candidate crosses the threshold need to win the seat.

The proposal before New Yorkers this year allows voters to rank up to five candidates in primary and special elections, and requires the winner to receive more than 50 percent of votes. Democratic primaries in New York City can be especially crowded, with citywide elections prone to possible run-offs between the top two candidates if neither reaches 40 percent initially, and down-ballot races won by candidates with relatively small pluralities.

The referendum is one of 19 placed on the ballot in five yes or no questions by the city’s 2019 Charter Revision Commission. The body -- with representatives appointed by the mayor, City Council, public advocate, city comptroller, and five borough presidents -- was responsible for examining the entire City Charter and putting amendments on the ballot to be voted on by the electorate.

Speaking Thursday morning were players from across the city’s political spectrum, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat, and Kathy Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, which represents the city’s business community. Also speaking were Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Bertha Lewis of the Black Institute, and Maya Wiley, Senior Vice President for Social Justice at the New School.

Assembly Member Ron Kim and Council Member Brad Lander made remarks, as did representatives from New Kings Democrats, Amplify Her, and New York Communities for Change. Labor unions like RWDSU and CWA, and good government groups like Citizens Union and Lerner’s Common Cause NY are also members of the coalition.

Ranked-choice voting, also known as “instant-runoff voting,” would replace the current voting system in city primary and special elections, which for citywide elections requires candidates to win 40 percent of the vote; if no candidate reaches the 40 percent threshold a runoff election is triggered -- a separate election in which only the highest two vote-earning candidates face off again.

“As someone who ran for Citywide office and participated in a runoff election, I know from personal experience that Ranked Choice Voting is necessary for New York,” said Betsy Gotbaum, the former public advocate and currently executive director of Citizens Union, in a statement. “Ranked Choice Voting will foster more positive, issue-focused campaigns, give voters more choice, ensure that elected officials are accountable to a broader spectrum of their constituents and avoid costly, time consuming and unnecessary runoff elections.”

The advocates say ranked-choice voting strengthens the concept of majority rule by ensuring the winner is receives more than 50 percent of the vote and requiring candidates to seek support beyond their base.

Brewer said it is important in a city as diverse as New York for voters to be able to express a range of choices in multifaceted campaigns. “If you’re running city-wide, you don’t just go to ten got to go to all the districts, you have to talk to everyone, you got to have a conversation,” she said.

“I am tired of people winning with 28 percent of the vote,” said Lewis, likely referencing borough president and City Council races, where there are no runoffs and candidates often win all-important Democratic primaries with low percentages in crowded races.

Supporters also say ranked-choice voting encourages turnout and can help "minority candidates" win. Alice Nascimento spoke for New York Communities for Change, which organizes low- and moderate-income families for political action. “When we talk to them about voting a number of times they say my vote doesn’t matter, there are too many candidates,” she said, referring to the constituents she works with.

The city Campaign Finance Board anticipates an astounding 500 candidates to be running for city office in 2021, when most City Council seats, four of five borough president positions, and two of three citywide positions, including mayor, will be wide open due to term limits. Because many of those races are likely to have several candidates, it’s likely that no candidate will receive more than 40 percent of vote in many races.

“Nobody’s going to know all of those candidates, and we really have to put the burden on candidates to get out beyond their core, base group and get to know what the issues are for the broader constituency,” said Wylde of the Partnership for New York City.

“And business issues aren’t frankly being very well represented these days, and we think this is a shot at getting them better represented in the public dialogue,” she added.

New York has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country and that is likely to be worse in the “off-year” elections of 2019, when only two major races are taking place (a public advocate special election and the Queens district attorney election). This means few New Yorkers are likely to turn out to decide the charter revision proposals.

Asked whether fundamental voting methods should be decided by a small fraction of eligible voters, Council Member Lander acknowledged the scenario was not ideal, but that passing ranked-choice voting by referendum in 2019 is the best option the city has.

“I’m confident this would win in a high turnout election. Charter revision commissions are timed when they are timed, so we have to move forward now,” Lander told Gotham Gazette after the press conference.

“And the charter revision process was very inclusive of a lot of people. Lots of communities, I think, were consulted in it and really had an active voice,” added Cynthia Richie Terrell, executive director of Represent Women.

Questions remain about how the public will be informed about the changes to city elections, should ranked-choice voting be approved this fall. “There’s going to be a learning curve...It’s very difficult. We have to find more creative ways, obviously, to get the information out. Those creative ways also cost money,” Public Advocate Williams told Gotham Gazette.

The city Board of Elections has been criticized for the low level of voter education and public engagement it has undertaken in the past. “Hopefully when people get to Election Day they’ll be given better instructions than they’ve been given in the past about what’s going on. But I think we’ll learn together and with any new system, the more we use it the more people are going to get used to it,” Williams said.

Lerner, speaking on behalf of Rank the Vote, which has a 501(c)4 registered with the Board of Elections for political activity, told Gotham Gazette, “There is confidence in a broad coalition of New Yorkers -- civic organizations, labor unions, engaged citizens -- who are going to take the message out.”

“If the voters adopt this we will absolutely be working with the city, with the board, but we are not going to rely just on the Board of Elections,” she added.

Ranked-choice voting will be part of the first question on the ballot this fall. Voters will be able to weigh-in during the nine-day early voting period from October 26 to November 3, or on Election Day, November 5.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

2019 Mayor’s Management Report Gives Snapshot of Government Services, City Trends

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(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio released the latest Mayor’s Management Report, an exhaustive document  of data behind city government -- the metrics the city uses, at least in theory, to determine whether government services are being delivered effectively and that the public can use to hold city government accountable. The report is broken down by agency, with each listing a set of broad goals, the progress toward which is illustrated by indicators.

The dense report covers data for fiscal year (FY) 2019, which began July 1, 2018 and ended June 30, 2019, and includes comparative data from fiscal years going back to FY15, the first full fiscal year of de Blasio’s mayoralty. Forty-five municipal agencies contribute to the report, which is aggregated under the Mayor’s Office of Operations.

Captured in its numbers are the contours of various aspects of life in the biggest city in the United States. Gotham Gazette went through many of the indicators -- ranging from the headline-grabbing to the obscure -- that illustrate, in part, how city government is doing.

Outlined below are metrics in key categories like education, children’s services, housing and homelessness, policing, jails, transportation, and sanitation. (There are dozens more areas of the report that are not included here -- to learn more about the city’s performance according to the mayor’s office, find the report here or visit specific sections using this navigation page.)

In FY19, approximately 1,126,500 students were enrolled in the public school system from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade (not including charter school students). This is roughly 4,000 more students than in FY15, but about 9,000 fewer than in the previous fiscal year.

Average class sizes for kindergarten through eighth grade have stayed roughly the same over the last five years.

Based on state test scores, students in grades three through eight are doing far better in math and English language arts than they were in FY15. Last year, 45.6 percent of students met or exceeded math standards, up roughly 10 percent; for English language standards, that number was 47.4 percent -- up 17 points since FY15. But, the tests have changed significantly over the last few years, making FY19 to FY15 comparisons limited in value.

Teachers on average are slightly less experienced than they were five years ago. In FY19, 67.3 percent of teachers had five or more years of teaching experience, compared with 71.2 percent of teachers in FY15. But principals are becoming more experienced: 68.8 percent had four or more years of experience as principals in FY19, while five years ago 60 percent did.

The Mayor’s Management Report does not include metrics on school diversity or racial, ethnic, or economic segregation in city schools.

Child Welfare
The Administration for Children’s Services reports families entering child welfare prevention services has decreased over the last five years from roughly 11,000 to 9,960. Children entering foster care has also fallen, from 4,233 in FY15 to 3,729 in FY19.

Of those entering foster care 28.9% are placed in homes in their community, down from 36-37 percent the previous four years; 93.8 percent are placed in the same home as siblings when applicable, up from 88.9 percent in FY15. The greater increase is the number of children entering foster care who are placed with relatives, which went from 29.5 percent in FY15 to 40.4 percent in FY19.

Housing and Homelessness
Of the roughly 60,000 people in homeless shelters across the city, the average number of single adults in shelters daily has risen every year over the last five years, from roughly 11,000 in FY15 to 16,000 in FY19. The daily average in the most recent year of reporting is more than 1,000 greater than it was the year before. The average number of families without children living in shelters every day has also risen year after year -- from 2,110 to 2,510. The averages for families with children is far greater -- 12,415 in FY19 -- but has stayed relatively constant over the last five years.

Under the mayor’s Housing New York plan to create or preserve 300,000 affordable housing units over 12 years, the process to construct new or preserve existing “affordable” (meaning rent-regulated in some way) apartments began on just over 25,000 units, meeting the administration’s stated goal for FY19. Another 18,200 units were completed under Housing New York and another initiative started under Bloomberg called the New Housing Marketplace Plan.

Under Housing NY in FY19, the city began financing 2,682 affordable units geared specifically toward homeless individuals and families. Another 1,968 will serve senior households.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), reports 173,000 apartments in public housing developments, down 3,000 from FY18 and 5,000 from FY15. The occupancy rate for NYCHA housing is 98.9 percent. About 2,450 homeless individuals who applied for public housing either in NYCHA or through Section 8 vouchers were placed. That number has fallen every year since FY16 from a high of 2,868.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) reported a roughly 10 percent decrease in major felony crimes over the four years: 93,631 in FY19, down from 103,872 in FY15. Major felony crimes include murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, and grand larceny. Notably, despite this overall drop, reports of forcible rape have increased relatively steadily (with a small drop between FY16 and FY17); 304 more cases were reported in FY19 than in FY15, an increase of about 29 percent.

Narcotics arrests have dropped precipitously. In fiscal year 2015, the first full fiscal year de Blasio held office, 61,007 narcotics arrests were made. In FY19, only 25,098 narcotics arrests were made, indicative of the city’s changing marijuana enforcement. Last year marked the most significant year-to-year drop, about 42 percent down from 43,574 arrests in FY18.

The number of non-violent “quality-of-life” summonses has also fallen to less than half of what it was in FY15. According to the report, the summonses are issued for “offenses that have a negative impact on City residents, including unreasonable noise, aggressive panhandling, window washing, and urinating in public.” The greatest drop -- almost 40 percent -- took place between FY17 to FY18. They were down another 24 percent in FY19, to 128,265 summonses. This trend was in large part spurred by the Criminal Justice Reform Act.

The report does not reveal much about “customer service” for people interacting with police. The police department reported 275,981 completed requests for interpretation, roughly the same as in FY15 (but a five percent drop from FY18). Yet, the report does not indicate how many interpretation requests were made, so it is difficult to assess the department’s overall performance. For the first time since FY10, the police department also did not report a CORE (Customers Observing and Reporting Experiences) facility ratings, which measures physical conditions and the quality of service in walk-in facilities.

There were 844 more complaints against uniformed police officers to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an oversight body tasked with investigating and prosecuting certain types of officer misconduct, in FY19 than the previous fiscal year -- a nearly 20 percent increase. FY15 had over a thousand fewer complaints than in FY19, a change of almost 26 percent over five years.

The time it takes the CCRB to complete a full investigation also increased, which the report says is consistent with the heightened number of complaints and the increased use of body-worn camera footage in investigations. “The amount of time it takes to obtain footage has also significantly contributed to the increase, as does instances where false negatives or false positives necessitate multiple follow-up requests,” the report also notes.

The police department reports paying $178 million in settlements or verdicts in state and federal court in FY19. The reported payout in FY15 was higher: $202,600,000.

The number of people in Department of Correction custody has declined steadily during de Blasio’s mayoralty, from average daily populations of 10,240 in FY15 to 7,938 in FY19. While the jail population has decreased, violent incidents among detainees and guards as a proportion of the total detainee population have risen dramatically. In FY19, there were about 70 violent detainee-to-detainee incidents per 1,000 people in custody, compared with just 38 in FY15 and 56 in FY18. Assaults on staff increased from roughly 9 to 13 per 1,000 detainees over the same five-year period.

Department of Correction staff is far more regularly using force against people in their custody than they were in FY15. In FY19, there were 6,670 incidents of force by custodial staff, an increase of 51 percent over de Blasio’s mayoralty. Use of force against adolescents has risen too: of the 6,670 incident of force, 571 were against adolescents, compared with 378 in FY15.

The number of people in custody with mental health diagnoses has risen from 41 percent to 45 percent over five years. The number of inmates with “serious mental health diagnosis” has gone up from 11.1 percent in FY15 to 16.8 percent in FY19.

There were nine more traffic fatalities in FY19 than the year before, but 31 fewer than in FY15. There were over 223,000 crashes in FY19 (422 involved Department of Transportation vehicles).

Fatalities among cyclists and pedestrians between FY15 and 19 have dropped overall from 159 to 137, but between FY18 and 19 they rose by nine. The city installed 67.5 miles of bike lane in FY19. That is significant growth from FY15 when roughly 51 miles were installed, but a drop from FY17 when nearly 83 miles were built.

Annual CitiBike memberships have more than doubled over five years to a high of 154,830 in FY19. And while bike ridership overall has picked up over five years, the number of adults who ride regularly fell by about 6,000 between FY18 and FY19.

The number of accessible medallion taxis has nearly quintupled in the last five years, coming to over 2,700 accessible cabs in FY19. There are only 579 accessible for-hire vehicles, such as through Uber or Lyft app-based services, and this is the first year the data from the Taxi and Limousine Commission has been included it in the Mayor’s Management Report.

Yellow and green cab safety and emissions inspections have dropped, with only about 32,000 taking place in FY19, compared to 48,000 the year before and 52,000 in FY15. The percentage of inspections completed on schedule also dropped dramatically to 55 percent in FY19 from the mid-nineties in all other years. At the same time the failure rate rose almost seven percentage points last year to 33.6 percent, while the re-inspection rate dropped a point to 6.1 percent.

It seems much of that effort has been transferred to safety and emissions inspections for the app-based for-hire vehicles. In FY19, 84,000 FHVs were inspected, compared to 47,000 in FY15, of which 96.8 percent were completed on schedule. About 29 percent fail the initial inspection, and only 8.4 percent are re-inspected.

The average time it takes the Department of Transportation to fix a pothole was 3.2 days in FY19, down from 5.6 in FY15. The average time it takes DOT to respond to “high priority” traffic signal defects that have made the roads unsafe is 21 minutes faster than the previous fiscal year.

The Department of Sanitation reportedly disposes of 3,248,100 tons of refuse annually, a two percent increase from FY15. The department handled 868,000 tons of recycling in FY19 at a rate of 2,783 tons per day.

The Mayor’s Management Report did not provide data on the costs per ton for refuse and recycling collection and disposal, though those prices in almost every case have risen every fiscal year for at least the last five. Collecting recycling alone costs $706 per ton, up from $645 in FY15. (The city does, however, earn $12 per ton in revenue for paper recycling.)

The report does not include data on street and sidewalk cleanliness for the first time in at least the last five fiscal years, while quality-of-life issues are a stated priority of de Blasio’s Deputy Mayor of Operations, Laura Anglin.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: The City's Fight Against Homelessness

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Steve Banks, right, with the Mayor and First Lady (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

September 18, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The City's Fight Against Homelessness

dss commissioner banks wbai 150Steve Banks, Commissioner of the Department of Social Services and Mayor de Blasio's homelessness czar, joined the show to discuss the city's fight against homelessness, the progress he believes the city has made over the past five-plus years since de Blasio took office and named him to head the Human Resources Administration (HRA), and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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