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Our City’s Charter is in desperate need of an upgrade for the next generation.
The last telegram was sent in 2006, so I don’t think the Charter should require telegraph to be maintained by NYPD Commissioner. The minimum wage is about to be $15 an hour, and I think the Mayor’s fourth enumerated power should be to pay election workers $20 a day.
We are presented with an opportunity to examine the balance of powers, the infrastructure of our government, and ultimately who is empowered to make decisions on behalf of the 8.7 million people who call this city home. Since August, I have carried a copy of the Charter around with me, highlighting interesting sections, and soliciting input. I must admit that I haven’t made it all the way through to Section 3103 of the Charter. My testimony represents a best effort through a cursory review identifying challenges with proposed solutions as a starting point.
I joined hundreds of New Yorkers in participating in the Mayor’s Charter Revision Commission by testifying over several months in favor of items now on the ballot including term limits and urban planners for Community Boards and a slate of Campaign Finance reforms to reduce large contribution and match more small dollars with more public dollars to finally get big money out of New York City politics.
First and foremost I would ask that if these measures pass, this Commission not weaken them in anyway and in fact strengthen them by adding a requirement that any part of the Charter adopted through a vote of the people only be subject to change by those same people at another vote.
Along those lines there are certain reforms that must be protected from future change without a vote of the people, such as ethics reforms for a life time ban on lobbying and life time term limits for elected officials and enshrine reforms in the Council to make the job full time, eliminate “lulus” for equal compensation and standardize budget allocations for each Council Member.
In the face of an attack on our rights from the Federal government, New York City is in need of its own bills of rights guaranteeing residents a right to a free higher education and child care, affordable health and mental health care, access to parks, libraries, and public transit, affordable internet, freedom from hunger, clean air and water, just to name a few.
This Commission can create a pathway for all the residents with great ideas for laws at these hearings and in the future to submit bills to the City Council for a guaranteed hearing and vote.
Ultimately the 1989 Charter Revision Commission gave many of the powers from the Board of Estimate to the Mayor and boards appointed by the Mayor. Regardless of the Mayor, other elected officials and communities have often been without power to stop a wrong. My recommendations hope to democratize many of the city’s most powerful boards with appointments from the Borough Presidents and the Council to achieve fair housing and affordable housing goals. Borough Presidents and Community Boards must be empowered to veto bad rezonings, the Council empowered with a final vote on franchises that have left residents without reliable cable or Internet, and both empowered to initiate land use changes in their own right.
I would highlight for this commission three main themes:
- Land Use: Empower communities in land use by changing the makeup of decision making boards to have fewer Mayoral appointments and include representation from the City Council
- Budget: Create a budget that anyone can review complete with budgeted amounts, modifications, and spending with the ability to drill down to individual salaries and how much they spent on pencils.
- Protect the Will of the People to Enshrine Campaign Finance and Ethics Reforms: Reforms that are essential to the functioning of our democracy, established through previous referenda, local law, and City Council rules, should be enshrined in the City Charter.
Download the Testimony in PDF