Revising the City Charter at the Polls – in 2018, and 2019

Gail Benjamin, chair of the Charter 2019 NYC revision commission, speaking about the process to reporters on Aug. 21 (Photo by Karen Pennar for Voices of NY)

On Sept. 7, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission starts an education campaign about the revisions it is proposing to the city’s charter, or “constitution” as some refer to it, which will be on the ballot this November. A few days later, on Sept. 12, the Charter 2019 NYC revision commission, formed by the City Council and including some mayoral representatives, will hold its first public hearing in the Bronx. Ideas will be reviewed over the next few months by that commission, and proposals will go on the ballot in November 2019.

Confused? Gail Benjamin, chair of the 2019 commission, on Tuesday acknowledged that it will be a “challenge” to get voters to the polls in 2019 to vote on revisions to the charter – a year after they have voted on other charter revisions. But she said that the 2019 Charter revision effort, unlike that recently concluded by the mayor’s commission, will be a comprehensive, top to bottom effort. “Our remit is much broader,” said Benjamin, a former director of the New York City Council Land Use Division who was appointed to the position by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

The object of the 2019 reform of the city charter, she said, is to “provide the ways and means to be more nimble,” in addressing issues ranging from land use decisions to governance, the budget and even how officials are elected. At a meeting to introduce the 2019 commission work to community and ethnic media, Benjamin urged that the word be put out about the forthcoming public hearings, which will be held in each borough during September. While there have been revisions to the city charter as recently as 2010, the Charter 2019 website states that the last commission “to fully overhaul the city’s government concluded its work nearly 30 years ago.”

Commissioners Dr. Una Clarke and Marco A. Carrión on Aug. 16 at a briefing on the Mayor’s Revision Commission proposals (Photo by Zainab Iqbal via Bklyner)

Representatives of the mayor’s commission, for their part, spoke last week in Brooklyn at a roundtable for community and ethnic media organized by the Mayor’s Office and the Center for Community and Ethnic Media and held at the The Made in NY Media Center by IFP in Brooklyn. Key proposals that emerged from several months of hearings revolve around campaign contribution limits, participatory budgeting and term limits for community board seats.

Zainab Iqbal writes in Bklyner:

From the various testimonies the Commision heard, the top issue was campaign finance.

“The commissioners have directed us to draft legislative language that would decrease the contributions (amount of money people are able to contribute to candidates) and increase the matching ratio (amount of money candidates receive in public funds),” Matt Gewolb, the executive director of the NYC Charter Revision Commision said.

“The idea is that a system like this can work against corruption or the perception of corruption in the political system.

One commission member spoke about her own experiences in Brooklyn as the Caribbean community she represented on the City Council grew over the years and needed better representation in government. Term limits for community board members can be a good starting point for emerging voices to be heard, she said. Iqbal writes in Bklyner:

Commissioner Dr. Una Clarke, who was the councilwoman for the 40th District for 10 years, believes there are several benefits of having term limits.

“As the community grows, so will the members on the community board,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is give a voice to every resident of the city of NY who has the desire to serve their community and be a part of their community.”

For more details on the mayor’s revision commission and its key findings, go to Bklyner and Queens Latino.

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