By Nate Izzo
The following article appeared in the November 2019 edition of The Campus.
It’s election season! This year’s general elections are on November 5th, and while they may not be as exciting as the presidential, or even congressional elections, every election is a chance to make your voice heard. This year, there will be one public office and five charter revision proposals on the ballot. This article will unpack them all and help you better understand your options as a voter.
The public advocate serves as the communicator between the city government and the people it represents. The public advocate is on the city council and can introduce legislation, but cannot vote on it. It is the job of the public advocate to act as an ombudsperson and oversee the city council to make sure that they effectively work for the citizens. This position is also second in line for mayor, should the office have a vacancy.
Jumaane D. Williams (D)
Democrat Jumaane D. Williams is the incumbent in this race, taking the office after a special election in February. Since his election, he has been successful in introducing and passing legislation with widespread support. This time, Williams is running on a progressive platform of improving affordable housing, increasing government transparency, and reforming the criminal justice system. He hopes to continue his work as an “activist elected official” to represent the voice of everyday New Yorkers. He is also the only candidate participating in the NYC Matching Funds Program.
Joseph Borelli (R)
Joseph Borelli is the minority whip of the City Council, representing Staten Island’s South Shore. His campaign focuses heavily on “stopping the de Blasio agenda,” though he has not outlined many specific policy plans when in office. However, during his time as a city council member, Borelli has led the committee overseeing the FDNY and increased funding to Staten Island schools. He is committed to either making the public advocate office more effective or scrapping the position altogether if it is unable to help taxpayers.
Devin Balkind (L)
Libertarian Devin Balkind is a nonprofit executive and civic technologist hoping to build technology-based services that aid New Yorkers. He aims to establish a 2-1-1 directory of public services, digitally update city agencies, and reform the MTA and NYCHA with new technology. He emphasizes the need for New York City to govern itself and not be restricted by the laws of the state government. With his focus on technology-based methods, Balkind plans to help New Yorkers gain access to social programs and better understand how the government works.
CHARTER REVISION BALLOT PROPOSALS
NYC Charter Revision Ballot Proposals are proposed changes to the systems that run the city. This election, there will be five proposals for voters to consider. On the ballot, there will be a description of each revision followed by the question, “Shall this proposal be adopted?” As a voter, you have to understand those proposals and give an answer: “yes” or “no.”
The first ballot proposal deals with certain aspects of the election process in three parts. The first part would establish a ranked choice voting system for primary and special elections. Voters would rank all the candidates from most to least favorite. The candidate with a majority of first-choice votes wins the election. If there is no first choice majority, the lowest-ranked candidate is eliminated, ranks are adjusted to match, and the process repeats until a candidate has a majority.
The second part of this ballot proposal would lengthen the time between the vacancy occurring and the election to fill it. Currently, mayoral special elections happen 60 days after the vacancy, and all others happen after 45 days. If the proposal is adopted, both periods would increase to 80 days. This system gives more time to send ballots to military voters and for candidates to run a campaign.
The final part of this ballot proposal moves the deadline for redrawing district lines from March 2023 to December 2022. The current deadline makes it difficult for candidates and voters alike to prepare for New York’s primary elections in June, since the exact makeup of the constituency will still be unknown. The new deadline gives more time for those preparations.
CIVILIAN COMPLAINT REVIEW BOARD
The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) investigates complaints against police officers and recommends discipline when necessary. There are five proposed revisions to how the CCRB functions.
The first part would add two more members to the board. One would be appointed by the public advocate, and the other would be appointed by the mayor and City Council Speaker. The latter would act as chairperson of the board. The second part establishes a minimum budget for the board; at least high enough to fund a staff equal to 0.65% the number of uniformed police officers. This proposal protects the CCRB budget from year-to-year inconsistencies.
If the board recommends disciplinary action, the police commissioner can accept or reject the recommendation. Part three of this proposal would require the commissioner to give detailed explanations of whether or not action was taken, as well as the reasoning for that decision. Parts four and five give the CCRB more power during investigations. The fourth part gives the CCRB power to investigate potential false statements made by police officers during an investigation and recommend discipline if a lie is found. Part five gives the CCRB the power to issue and enforce subpoenas to gain evidence in a more timely manner.
ETHICS AND GOVERNMENT
The third proposal deals with the ethics policies of the government in five parts. Part one would extend the prohibition of former officials communicating with the government on their new employer’s behalf from one to two years for higher-ranking officials.
The second would diversify who appoints the members of the Conflicts of Interest Board. Currently, the mayor appoints all five members, but the revision would have the public advocate and Comptroller each appoint one member. It would also require three members to approve board decisions instead of two. The third part further restricts COIB members’ political activity and campaign contributions.
The fourth part would require the Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) director to report directly to the mayor. Currently, the director may report to the mayor or to a commissioner that reports to the mayor. The final part deals with the leader of the Law Department, the Corporation Counsel. The proposal would require the City Council to approve the mayor’s appointee. The mayor would also need to offer a replacement within 60 days should a vacancy occur.
The fourth proposal deals with the City’s budgeting process. The first part would establish a “rainy day” fund, which would be set aside to use for unexpected future expenses. The second part would set a minimum budget for the public advocate and borough presidents and tie them to inflation and the city expense budget. This proposal would protect them from the inconsistency that comes with standard yearly budget negotiations.
Part four deals with balancing the budget. It is one of the mayor’s responsibilities to estimate the total revenue the city has to work with so that the City Council can consider the impact of each decision. This proposal moves the deadline for that estimate from June 5 to April 26, giving the Council more time to deliberate. The fifth section is fairly simple: it would mandate the mayor to give the City Council a 30 day notice before revising the city’s financial plan.
The final ballot proposal is only two parts, and it deals with how land is used in the city. When developers seek exceptions from certain zoning laws, they have to send in a “land use application.” This process does not currently involve borough presidents or the borough and community boards, and that is what this proposal seeks to change. The Department of City Planning would be required to create and publicly publish a detailed review of every application before it is approved.
In the same vein, the second part of this proposal would give community boards more time to respond to certified land use applications. This response includes informing the community, holding meetings about the application, and submitting recommended changes.