Gotham Gazette Fri, 23 Apr 2021 00:09:23 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Amazonian Lessons for Urbanists mayorbdb govandcuomo lic

Gov. Cuomo & Mayor de Blasio announcing Amazon deal (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

As soon as Amazon announced last year that it would be opening a second headquarters to house 50,000 new employees, cities across the country feverishly competed to lure the colossus retailer. With promises of tax breaks, infrastructure upgrades, employee training and just anything they thought would work, local politicians courted billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos hoping he would deem their town worthy of his high tech presence. The bragging rights alone seemed well worth the price.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio overcame long animosities as they ran victory laps around Long Island City to celebrate winning even half the prize.

To Cuomo and de Blasio’s surprise, not everyone is so elated.

Local legislators howled when they heard that the state would circumvent the city’s land use process and deny community residents a more full opportunity to review and comment on the development. Queens residents raised concerns that Amazon’s arrival would accentuate ongoing problems of displacement and gentrification. A skeptical New York press parsed through whatever information was available to figure out what the state and city were giving away to close the deal. The very smart people who write editorials for the New York Times concluded it wasn’t New York bagels that attracted Amazon to Queens.

The entire episode can be instructive for those who care about the future of cities and the people who live in them. There is plenty of blame to go around, and it does not stop in New York. What follows is four major lessons to move the conversation along.

1. Nobody knows
It was bad enough that the entire deal was negotiated in secrecy. But even with more information available, it is difficult to definitively assess the costs and benefits of such complex arrangements with any measure of certainty.

Sometimes, we don’t discover the consequences until it is too late. Last week, a study completed by researchers at the New School’s Center for Economic and Policy Analysis estimated that Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “self financing” Hudson Yards project will cost taxpayers $2.2 billion. In the Amazon case, most of the exceptional tax breaks are being absorbed by the state. The city has not negotiated away any special financial benefits beyond those contained in existing laws – except, of course, an opportunity for affected communities to have a real say in what happens where they live. The latter is a matter of state law.

New Yorkers, like most Americans, are cynical about the political process. When people don’t know all the facts in a complex situation like this one, they assume they are being short-changed. They usually are.

2. Politicians are tone deaf
The United States has the widest disparity in wealth and income of any major country in the free world. New York City is a worst-case example of how concentrated wealth is localized. Much of the growing disparity is a result of federal regulatory and tax policies that have functioned to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Economists have been tracking this trend for decades.

Most Americans more or less understand what is happening and they are angry. They express their anger in the voting booth, but many politicians don’t seem to get the message. A relatively unknown candidate named Bernie Sanders almost derailed Hillary Clinton’s taken-for-granted Democratic Party nomination in 2016 when he candidly told voters that the political system is “rigged” against them. Donald Trump, unfortunately, capitalized on voter discontent to defeat Clinton in the general election.

Local politicians contribute to the overall distrust in government when they make sweetheart deals with corporations and real estate magnates. People, especially those struggling to make ends meet, don’t like to be had and they know it happens to them all the time.

3. Our political leaders live in a bubble
Didn’t decision-makers understand that handing over nearly $3 billion in incentives and grants to the richest man in the world so that he can make more money would stir resentment? Whose brilliant idea was it to allow CEO Jeff Bezos to build a private helipad just down the road from stops on a crumbling subway system and public housing projects where people are living under substandard conditions?

How can public officials defend the Amazon deal after telling us that we do not have the funds to address such problems? Put aside the merits of the case. What about the optics (which do matter)? Don’t our elected officials have public relations experts around them to explain that subsidizing a private landing pad for a billionaire entrepreneur is a ridiculous idea that does not sit well with ordinary people? Can’t Mr. Bezos figure out another way to get to the office?

4. Big is not beautiful
Where is Teddy Roosevelt when we need him? There was a time when leaders who called themselves progressives broke up large business conglomerates in the public interest. They understood that supersized economic enterprises can hinder healthy competition and that accumulated wealth can give certain individuals outsized influence in the democratic process. They had the gumption to take on the likes of John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil cartel. Populism was once a bipartisan progressive project. That was before professional lobbyists armed with campaign cash took over Washington.

Amazon is a prime example of how elected officials in both major parties have let businesses grow across commercial domains with little concern for the public interest. Jeff Bezos can sell you anything from a high-tech computer to a bag of grapes. When he decides to come to your town, he commands the attention of those in charge, and usually gets what he wants. Yes, including his personal landing pad.

Joseph P. Viteritti is the Thomas Hunter Professor of Public Policy at Hunter College and author of The Pragmatist: Bill de Blasio’s Quest to Save the Soul of New York (Oxford). Note: I need to thank the students in my “Governing the City” class for their stimulating conversation on this topic.

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Amazonian Lessons for Urbanists Mon, 19 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
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]

by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

As City Proceeds with Two Charter Revision Commissions, A Cautionary Tale from Los Angeles Wed, 09 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Council Speaker Backs Charter Commission Bill That Gives Him More Sway Corey Johnson

Speaker Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said last week that the Council would forge ahead with legislation to create a Charter Revision Commission to review the broad structure of city government, bucking Mayor Bill de Blasio’s intention to unilaterally create a commission meant to explore campaign finance and electoral reforms. And Johnson’s support of the bill -- first proposed in December by Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer -- also came with one significant change to its language. Instead of the commission members electing a chair and vice chair from among themselves, the speaker would get to appoint the head of the commission.

The original James-Brewer bill was introduced amid a frenzy of other activity on the last day of the 2014-2017 session of the City Council and, just two months later, was undercut by de Blasio’s announcement in his State of the City address that he would convene his own commission. The mayor said that he would solicit input from others, but that he would appoint all the commission members, exercising his executive prerogative.

On Friday, however, The New York Times reported that Johnson would support the James-Brewer proposal, which calls for a commission with four members appointed by the mayor, four appointed by the Council speaker, one member appointed by each borough president, and one member appointed by each the public advocate and the comptroller.

The original version of the bill proposed that the commission would get to choose one of its members to lead it through the process of examining, debating, and reimagining the charter, effectively the city’s constitution. The process takes months at the minimum, depending on the scope of the commission’s review, and its proposals are put to the voters on the ballot.

The amended version of the bill, on which Johnson was added as a lead co-sponsor along with James and Brewer, contains the change giving him more power. “The speaker of the city council shall appoint from among the membership a chairperson,” it states.

Joseph Viteritti, a professor at Hunter College who was research director for the Charter Revision Commission convened by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2010, said the change “certainly makes the Speaker a more important player in this.”

“A very important function of the chair is to select the staff of the commission, the executive director, and the research director,” Viteritti said, pointing out that much of the work is driven by those staffers. “From a working point of view, I think it is significant...That’s what drives the process in the end.”

Jennifer Fermino, a spokesperson for Johnson, maintained that the change in the bill was not noteworthy. “The structure of the commission remains unchanged. The sponsors of the bill agreed that having a chair appointed by the Speaker would make the process of setting up the Commission more efficient, as it has for past Commissions. The Chair can accept space and initial staff which will enable the Commission to get to work more quickly,” Fermino said in a statement.

Spokespeople for James and Brewer did not provide comment for this article. A mayoral spokesperson declined to comment.

Viteritti did note that any commission, whether created by the legislative branch or the executive, is virtually unhindered in scope and can choose to explore any section of the charter its members deem necessary. Both camps proposing a commission -- the mayor on one side and the council speaker, public advocate and Manhattan borough president on the other -- have made clear the issues they want to pursue, however.

De Blasio was more direct, stating in his February 13 State of the City speech that he would appoint a commission and “give it the mandate” to propose changes to campaign finance law, reducing the influence of wealthy donors in elections, as well as empower the city government to handle responsibilities currently entrusted to the Board of Elections, a quasi-state agency.

Johnson is hoping for a broader assessment of city government, without any “pre-baked” ideas and proposals, and not including proposals that fall under the Council’s legislative authority, such as campaign finance reform. “A Charter Revision Commission should look at things that are structural in the governance of New York City,” he said when asked by Gotham Gazette, at an unrelated news conference last week, two days before The New York Times report.

Among the ideas he floated -- some of which have been supported by James and Brewer as well -- are independent budgeting for the offices of the public advocate, the borough presidents, the comptroller and community boards; an “advise-and-consent” role for the Council on additional mayoral appointees and nominations; examining changes to the city’s land use process and units of appropriation as part of the budget process.

“Those are things that we at the Council cannot legislate,” Johnson added. “They’re in the City Charter, they go to the structure of city government and we can’t legislate them. The issues that the mayor put forward, while they may be worthy issues, they’re not issues that the public needs to vote on as part of a Charter Revision Commission. The council could legislate those items.”

The Council bill is set to be heard by the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Friday.

“You never can entirely predict where a commission is going to go,” Viteritti said. “If you know where you’re going before you get there, what’s the point of calling a Charter Revision Commission.”

[Read: De Blasio Promises Fairness, Democracy in State of the City Address]

[Read: Next Steps and Recent Precedents for De Blasio's Charter Revision Commission]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Council Speaker Backs Charter Commission Bill That Gives Him More Sway Tue, 13 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Next Steps and Recent Precedents for De Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission Mayor de Blasio State of the City

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

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in his State of the City speech that he would convene a commission to consider changes to the city charter, New York City’s seminal governing document. De Blasio said the charter revision commission would undertake the significant task of reducing the impact of “big money” on local elections and to engage voters in a democracy that has suffered from their apathy. The mayor is hoping the commission members, whom he has yet to name, will prepare recommendations in time for voters to approve or reject the commission’s ideas on Election Day this November through one or more ballot questions.

De Blasio is ready to utilize a power available to him, though some are already questioning why he isn’t pursuing his desired changes through legislation at the City Council, while others are criticizing the mayor for pre-determining the panel’s outcomes. But, de Blasio will do as several predecessors have done and call a commission. How exactly does it work?

The mayor has the power to call a Charter Revision Commission under Section 36 of the state’s municipal home rule law. A commission can be composed of between 9 and 15 members, who would all have to be residents of the city. The mayor simply has to file the names of his chosen members, who can include current public officials, with the City Clerk’s office. There is no public vetting process, but de Blasio has conceded that he is open to input from concerned elected officials about who should serve on the body.

“I’m going to act in the manner stipulated in the City Charter,” the mayor said at an unrelated news conference on Feb 14, when asked by Gotham Gazette if he’d let other elected officials choose members for the commission, as some were calling for even before de Blasio’s announcement. “So, I’ll be naming the commission. I’m happy to talk to my colleagues in government about people they think would be right to serve, but I will name the commission just as previous mayors did.”

De Blasio said in his State of the City speech that he would “give [the Commission] the mandate to propose a plan for deep public financing of local elections.” Despite being elected with maximum contributions from wealthy donors (the limit is $4,950 per person to a mayoral candidate), the mayor has been a frequent critic of the influence of big money in elections. He also established multiple extra-governmental fundraising entities that took in hundreds of thousands of dollars from entities with city business and led to new city laws restricting such groups.

De Blasio has directly spoken out against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to untold amounts of unaccountable election spending, and has repeatedly called for broader campaign finance reforms to be enacted by the state.

“I will also charge the Charter Revision Commission to propose a plan to empower the city government,” de Blasio continued during his State of the City, insisting that the city should be able to take on duties he believes are currently mishandled by the New York City Board of Elections, a quasi-state agency.

However, the mayor cannot technically charge the Commission, which is meant to be independent, with exploring any specific agenda item. A commission could take up any issue its members deem appropriate and recommend changes to the charter that even the mayor could not reject. Final recommendations would have to be approved by a voter referendum.

“The mayor I think has made it clear he has certain questions in mind, which seem to be well intended,” said Joseph Viteritti, a professor at Hunter College who served as research director for the 2010 Charter Revision Commission created by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Viteritti also recently wrote a book about de Blasio). “That said, once a commission is appointed, it can go where it chooses.”

The 2010 commission held public hearings in each of the five boroughs and, based on feedback from the public and from elected officials, examined five broad subjects: voter participation, public integrity, government structure, term limits for elected officials, and land use. In its final report, the commission made several recommendations which ultimately formed the basis for two ballot questions that were both approved by 52 percent of voters.

The first question reduced the number of terms that city elected officials can serve from three to two for those elected in 2010 and after, and prohibited the City Council from changing term limits for incumbents. The second question dealt more widely with elections and government administration. Among other things, it required the disclosure of independent expenditures in city elections; reduced the number of ballot petition signatures that candidates need to run for office; tasked the city’s Campaign Finance Board with voter assistance functions; established mandatory conflicts of interest trainings for all public servants, while also increasing fines for violations.

“I would assume they’ll have public hearings and when you do that...people can introduce things that may or may not be on the agenda,” Viteritti said. “Any commission opens up the entire charter to review potentially. There’s no constraints once it’s appointed.”

Notably, the 2010 Commission did not propose a ballot question on nonpartisan primary elections, a change that Bloomberg had made clear in the past that he wanted to see happen and that would allow any registered voter to vote in one party primary of their choosing. The Commission debated the issue extensively -- although Bloomberg did not raise it again that year -- but it did not include it in its final recommendations. “We decided not to propose that because we didn’t think we had enough time to consider the potential consequences of such a major change,” Viteritti said. “What that should tell anybody is that the mayor can express his priorities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be reflected in the final deliberations of the commission.”

The last time the city’s charter was thoroughly reviewed was by the 1989 Commission, on which Viteritti served as a consultant. That commission radically changed the structure of city government by eliminating the Board of Estimate -- a body made up of the citywide electeds and borough-wide officials who together exercised complete control over the city’s budget and land use -- and by assigning its roles to the City Council, which saw its number of seats increase from 35 to 51.

Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College's School of Public and International Affairs, praised the mayor’s announcement but said his priorities should be broader. “It’s gotta be far more extensive and it’s gotta be funded appropriately,” said Muzzio, who was on an expert panel on government structure that testified before the 2010 Commission.

Muzzio pointed to an alternate proposal put forward in legislation by Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, both second-term Democrats like de Blasio. The proposed bill would create a charter review commission composed of representatives appointed by the mayor, who would get a plurality of appointees, the speaker of the City Council, the borough presidents, the public advocate and the comptroller. “In terms of greater diversity of views on something as important as the charter, I would prefer the Brewer-James proposal,” Muzzio said.

“Charter revision is important and needed,” Brewer tweeted on Tuesday, “but appointments should come from many electeds and the issues to be discussed should come from the group.”

In a New York Daily News editorial in December, Brewer and James called for a revamp of the city’s charter, noting that “the last real overhaul” was in 1989. Citing a new world and new challenges, a charter revision commission, they said, could give communities a stronger voice in the city’s land use processes, provide City Council members with greater say over the city’s budget, and streamline agencies with shared responsibilities. “Our goal is simple: empower a panel of genuine experts to do a top-to-bottom review of how our government could work better, and put their recommendations up for public discussion and a vote,” they said.

Time will likely be a constraint on de Blasio’s commission and if they are to be ready to make recommendations by November, they will have to move quickly. The 2010 commission was convened in March and had issued its final report by August.

Both Muzzio and Viteritti also pointed out that many of the improvements to campaign financing and election laws that the mayor wants to accomplish are held back by inaction by the state Legislature and Citizens United.

Although the mayor may not drastically change how New York City’s massive municipal government works, he has nonetheless set the stage for a broader discussion of voting laws, election funding, and the city’s waning democracy, Viteritti insisted.

“To me the most important thing to come out of this is to raise the consciousness of people to how broken and troubled the democratic process is,” he said. “The more public discussion we have about these issues the better...We have to start the conversation somewhere. It’s not starting in Albany. It’s not starting in Washington, D.C., that’s for sure.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article noted earlier that the 2010 Charter Revision Commission did not take up the issue of nonpartisan primary elections. The Commission, in fact, debated the issue but did not include it in their final recommendations. The article has been updated.  

Next Steps and Recent Precedents for De Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission Tue, 20 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: De Blasio Author Joseph Viteritti mxm logo

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

August 30, 2017 - De Blasio Author Joseph Viteritti

cover joe vitJoseph P. Viteritti, public policy professor at Hunter College, CUNY, where he is chair of the Urban Policy and Planning Department, has written a new book about Mayor Bill de Blasio: The Pragmatist: Bill de Blasio's Quest to Save the Soul of New York. Published by Oxford University Press, The Pragmatist is due out September 5. After reading an advance copy, our Ben Max spoke with Viteritti about de Blasio and the book, in which Viteritti not only examines de Blasio's career and mayoralty, but puts de Blasio into historical perspective.

The publisher describes the book as the "Most comprehensive book on mayoral leadership in NYC currently available, beginning with La Guardia and progressives (Wagner, Lindsay), through the post-fiscal crisis mayors (Beame, Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani, Bloomberg)." It traces de Blasio's early life and political career through much of his term as mayor. De Blasio is seeking a second term this fall, with The Pragmatist set for publish just a week before the Democratic primary, which the incumbent is expected to win, and two months before the general election, where de Blasio is also heavily favored.

On the Max & Murphy podcast, Viteritti discusses his conclusions about and impressions of de Blasio.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: De Blasio Author Joseph Viteritti Wed, 30 Aug 2017 04:00:04 +0000