What’s on the (two-page!) NYC Ballot? 3 questions plus the chance to make history

It’s election time, New York!

Most of the candidate decisions were made during the primary in September, given that NYC overwhelmingly elects Democrats to city and state district seats. But surprises can still be had. It’s exciting and fun and thrilling to exercise your right to vote, even if you think your candidate will absolutely win, or absolutely not win.

At the district level, races are often won by tiny margins, so every vote does count.

First things first: Most voters in New York City will have TWO PAGE ballots on Election Day!

Some chaos is expected as voting operational procedures will have to change slightly (each page has to be separated and fed into the machine.)

We advise kindness to your poll workers, and well-moisturized hands to avoid paper cuts. God(dess) speed!    

Who’s on the ballot?

Attorney General

On Tuesday, we also have the chance to make history, pretty much any way you slice it. The ballot slate itself is history making.

In 2013, Attorney General candidate Letitia James made history when she became the first Black woman elected to citywide office upon winning her election to become Public Advocate.

In September, she made history again as the first black woman to win a major party statewide nomination in New York.  

She is predicted to make history again this week, if she indeed wins the race for Attorney General, becoming New York State’s first Black AND first woman AG!   

Her Republican opponent Keith Wofford would also make history as the first Black AG in New York.

In terms of increasing diversity in politics, this race is a win-win.

In terms of values: Tish James promises anti-corruption and fighting the Trump agenda, while Wolfson wants the office of the AG to focus on going after corrupt public officials while taking it easier on businesses.  

Onto the other statewide races:

U.S. Senate

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (Democrat, Incumbent) is seeking her second full term.

She is considered a potential 2020 presidential contender, and supports Medicare-for-All and the DREAM Act. Her Instagram is a nerdy, wholesome delight. She has the endorsement of Newsday and The Western Queens Gazette, among many others.

Chele Chiavacci Farley (Republican), is a moderate. Her name is pronounced “shell”. She faces an uphill battle in a state that has not elected a Republican to the US Senate since 1992.

Governor / Lieutenant Governor

These offices run on separate tickets in the primary but are joined in the general election.

(Why miss an opportunity to confuse voters?! The founding fathers of New York State must have exclaimed to themselves.)

Incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo (and son of three-termer Mario Cuomo, the first Italian-American to hold the NYS governorship) is widely expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and win a third term, although his margins are shrinking.

Running against him is a fascinating cast of characters:

  • Republican candidate Marc Molinaro entered politics when he was elected Mayor of Tivoli, NY, at 19 years old. He’s a fairly standard moderate Republican who has distanced himself from Trump. Notably, as Dutchess County Executive (his current gig) As County Executive, Molinaro spearheaded a 2015 initiative called “Think Differently” for people with disabilities, and has appointed a Deputy Commissioner of Special Needs. He has the endorsement of syracuse.com, which is not a great sign for candidate Stephanie Miner (below).
  • Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins has branded himself “Plan B” for progressives, following Cynthia Nixon’s loss in the primaries. The Green Party has never won a statewide race in New York, but if making history is your personal 2018 election theme — here is another chance.
  • Serve America Movement candidate Stephanie Miner is former Democratic mayor of Syracuse, and is running a bipartisan race alongside her running mate, Republican Pelham Mayor Michael Volpe. Their platform includes cutting out government corruption and voting reform measures like election day voter registration.  

District races

An excellent guide to district races lives at WNYC. (Yes you have to give them your email, but at this point, who doesn’t have your email. Better WNYC than J.Crew, am I right?). 

Some of the tightest and most contentious races are outside New York City: Perry Gershon (Democrat) is challenging  Republican incumbent Lee Zeldin for New York’s first Congressional district on Long Island in a race that has attracted the attention of the White House. Antonio Delgado is challenging Republican incumbent John Faso up in the Hudson Valley, Central New York, Catskills in the 19th Congressional district, and is shown in polls to be in a slight lead.

And now… The reason the ballot is two-pages

New York City voters will have 3 questions on the back of the ballot, which are proposed amendments to the NYC Charter. 

Proposal No. 1: Reduce individual contribution limits and increase public matching funding for small donors.   

If the measure passes, donors could give a maximum of $2,000 to a candidate for mayor or other citywide office, down from the current $5,100.

Maximum donations to City Council candidates would be $1,000, down from $2,850.

The dollar match of public funds would be increased to 8 x 1, up from the current 6 x 1, up to $250 per donor.

So if someone gave $250, the candidate would receive an additional $250 x 8 (= $2,000) in public matching funds.

Pretty much everyone seems to be in agreement that this is a great way to keep corporate interests / big donors out of politics, support newcomer campaigns (incumbents tend to get the big bucks), and increase small dollar donations.

How to vote:

YES – If you are into reforming the campaign finance system to support underdogs and have small donations make a bigger impact.

NO – If you think the current campaign finance system is working just fine.   

Proposal No. 2: Creating a citywide Civic Engagement Commission  

This proposal would create a Civic Engagement Commission that would work to increase participation in the democratic process and civic life, provide resources to community boards, and place translators at voting sites, among other tasks. The mayor would appoint a majority of the board’s 15 members and be able to assign it new duties.

The commission would expand Participatory Budgeting NYC (or PBNYC) citywide. PBNYC allows neighborhood residents the power to directly decide how a portion (about $2 million) of their NYC Council representative’s budget is spent on neighborhood projects. All neighborhood residents over 14 can participate in this process, regardless of voter registration or legal status.

Currently, about half of NYC Council Districts participate in PBNYC. Does yours?

NYC Council member Brad Lander and NYC Immigration Coalition director Steven Choi are big fans of this proposal.

Others, not so much:

“What is this thing?” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. She thinks the commission duplicates the functions of other parts of government, including the borough presidents’ offices.

NYS Assemblymember (D – 52) Jo Anne Simon says, “The commission would perform other tasks that would actually centralize power in the commission, thereby taking it away from the community…. Even more insidiously, Proposal 2 would permit the Mayor to assign “powers and duties of other city agencies to the commission.”

How to vote:

YES – If PB is your jam and you think that the Civic Engagement Commission won’t become an evil entity that centralizes power, taking it away from communities and city agencies.   

NO – If you are worried that this is just another one of DeBlasio’s well-intentioned, hair-brained schemes that will obliterate community-based power structures and civic resources.

Proposal No. 3: Term limits for Community Board members

(First of all, breaking news: Your interests are represented by something called a Community Board. There are 59 of these bad boys in NYC. They hold monthly meeting open to the public, that tend to be many hours long, usually in hot rooms, according to my unscientific sample.)

The 50 members of each Board are appointed by the Borough President and the local City Council member. The Community Board members are currently not term limited.

No, the district lines do not match any other electoral district lines — logic is not a hallmark of democracy!)   

This proposal calls for Community Boards members to four consecutive two-year terms. (Members could be appointed again after taking a term off.)

The measure would also require Borough Presidents to seek out diverse appointments for the boards. If approved, the new term limits would be phased in for community board members starting in April 2019.

Supporters say this is a great way to open the door to fresh faces and voices in community politics.

Critics say this leaves neighborhoods vulnerable to their Community Boards being overrun by pro-development, gentrifying interests.   

Brad and Steven say: “Including more people in our democracy — especially immigrants, people of color and young people — is the only way to make it real. New and more diverse energy will make our communities stronger, to stand up to developers, or to City Hall, when they don’t have the interests of the whole community in mind.”

Jo Anne says: “Term limits would eliminate experienced volunteer members who are critical to their decision-making.  Community boards are the first line of defense for our neighborhoods…. Without experienced members with institutional memories who understand city land use, transportation, licensing and environmental processes, our neighborhoods will be vulnerable to city and developer generated proposals… The City Council members and borough presidents re-appoint members every two years.  If someone is not contributing well on a board, the appointing official can simply not reappoint them.”

How to vote:

YES – If you think that making it easier to get new voices and ideas to the table is a good idea in order to have a more effective democracy.

NO – If you think institutional / neighborhood memory is at stake, and that having it on the Community Board is important to preserve existing neighborhood and protect against developers.