Today’s election is all about the action happening on the back of the ballot! There are five proposed revisions to the City Charter to be decided by the people of the U.S.’s largest (and best!) city.
Today, there is only one race that will appear on all ballots: Special election elected Public Advocate Jumaane Williams faces off with a Republican challenger Joe Borelli, his former colleague in the City Council. Williams is expected to win in a landslide.
In Council District 45 (Flatbush, Flatlands, Kensington, Midwood), where Williams left a vacant seat when he took office as Public Advocate, there was a special election in June, which Farah Louis won. She is again expected to win in today’s special rules general election. In Queens, embattled democratic primary winner Melinda Katz (the current borough president) is expected to win her race for District Attorney. Otherwise, the races are for a smattering of county judges. These are crucial races; learn which candidates will appear on your ballot here.
Party in the back! Five questions appear on the back of your ballot. As always, the language is complex and all the choices seem like probably not the correct one.
Here’s a spirit guide for forging through:
Proposal 1: Elections
This doozy has three parts; they are not separated in the actual proposal but we’ll separate them here for the sake of organizational sanity:
- Ranked voting: This gives the voters the choice of ranking up to five candidates in primary and special elections for all municipal offices. Basically the purpose of this is to eliminate (very co$tly!) run-off primary elections. If there is no majority (40% +) winner, the last place candidate gets eliminated; voters who chose that candidate as their top choice have their vote transferred to their next choice.This process repeats until only two candidates remain, and then the candidate with the most accumulated votes then would be the winner.
- Extend the time period between when the seat of an elected City office becomes vacant (due to them taking another office or resigning in scandal) and when a special election is held to fill that vacancy, from 45 to 80 days.
- Adjust the timeline for drawing City Council district boundaries so that it happens before City Council candidates start gathering petition signatures.
There are a lot of moving parts here. We’ll start with the components categorized as parts B and C because they’re a little easier to digest. Part B essentially gives candidates more time to get their act together to run a campaign and the voters for time to decide who they like. Seems like a win-win.
Part C basically adjusts the timeline for the redrawing of City Council district boundaries so that candidates trying to get on the ballot don’t unintentionally collect a bunch of signatures from people who it turns out don’t live in their district after all. This seems like common sense.
If these were the only two components of the proposal, it would seem like a total no brainer to vote yes. But alas, it is part A that is the complex one here…. On the one hand, eliminating costly run-offs sounds like a great plan for not burning millions in taxpayer dinero. Ranked voting has been adopted successfully in Minneapolis, San Francisco, Santa Fe. Proponents say it helps women and people of color get elected (a boon for diversity). On the other hand, critics say ranked choice voting is confusing. We’ll let you decide.
Proposal 2: Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB)
To start, the CCRB is an independent agency that investigates and recommend actions on complaints against NYPD officers for abuse of any kind.
This proposal has five parts that we’ll break down:
- Increase the size of the CCRB from 13 to 15 members; adding one member appointed by the Public Advocate and adding one member jointly appointed by the Mayor and Speaker of the Council who would serve as chair.
- Make CCRB’s annual payroll budget so that the staff headcount is 0.65% of NYPD’s uniformed officer headcount. Yikes! The math: 0.65% of 10,000 is 65. So if there are 10,000 NYPD uniformed officers, there would be 65 CCRB staff.
- Require the NYPD Commissioner to provide the CCRB with a written explanation when the Police Commissioner does not abide by the discipline recommended by the CCRB (or by the Police Department Deputy Commissioner for Trials).
- Allow the CCRB to investigate any “material statement” (substantive allegation) made by a police officer who is the subject of a CCRB investigation or complaint, and recommend discipline against the police officer if that allegation turns out to be untrue.
- Allow the CCRB members to compel the attendance of witnesses and create records for its investigations.
Essentially, all these components are about improving the accountability of the NYPD and increasing the power and capacity of the CCRB to do so. People of all stripes seem pretty into this proposal, including longshot Public Advocate candidate Joe!
Proposal 3: Ethics and Government
This one also has five parts!
- Extends the time that former City elected officials and senior appointed officials are banned from lobbying the agency where they used to work from one to two years.
- Change the membership of the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) by replacing two of the five members currently appointed by the Mayor with one member appointed by the Comptroller and one member appointed by the Public Advocate.
- Prohibit members of the COIB from participating in campaigns for local elected office, and reduce the maximum amount of money that they can contribute in each election cycle.
- Require that the citywide director of the Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) program report directly to the Mayor, and create a mayoral office of M/WBEs to support this director.
- Require that the City’s Corporation Counsel, currently appointed by the Mayor, also be approved by the City Council. (The City’s Corporation Counsel is a.k.a. The New York City Law Department, and responsible for the city’s legal affairs.)
Basically, all these proposals are in the interest of reducing corruption and pay-to-play (parts A and C), supporting diversity (part D), and democratizing the selection process for major decision makers in city government (parts B and E). If you are into that, vote yes. If you are concerned about restricting First Amendment rights of some city employees, the NYT reports that other critics are, too.
Proposal 4: City Budget
Don’t worry, this one only has 4 parts!
- Create a City “rainy day fund,” to save money to use in future years to address unexpected financial hardships. Changes to State law are needed for this rainy day fund to become a thing.
- Set minimum budgets for the Public Advocate and Borough Presidents. The budget would be adjusted annually by the inflation rate or the percentage change in the City’s total expense budget (whichever is less) unless the Mayor determines that a lower budget is fiscally necessary.
- Require the Mayor to submit the (non-property) tax revenue estimate to the City Council by April 26 instead of June 5.
- Require that the Mayor submit any changes to the City’s financial plan that require a budget modification to the Council within 30 days of making the initial proposal.
Consider: The city is already doing the rainy day fund thing in a workaround to current law, so this just allows the voters to express how they feel about it. Part B assures that the offices of the Public Advocate and Borough President actually have enough money to get things done, which seems logical. Parts C and D hold the Mayor more accountable to the City Council for staying on budget. If you like money in government to be accountable, functional, and plan for emergencies, vote yes on this proposal.
Proposal 5: Land Use
This is basically about increasing the transparency of land use planning, in two parts:
- For projects subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), require the Department of City Planning (DCP) to give a detailed project summary to the affected Borough President, Borough Board, and Community Board at least 30 days before the application is certified for public review, and post that summary on its website. For your reference, any project that requires a change of zoning (like change in use, a special permit, etc.) has to go through ULURP. But other actions can be subject to ULURP too that might affect you. You can see the full list of actions here).
- Increase the amount of time that Community Boards have to review ULURP applications from the current 60 days to 75 or 90 days.
Part A is about making sure the public and their elected representatives understands what the proposed project will entail. Part B is about giving Community Boards enough time to review land use change applications that will affect them.
The major critique that community advocates have is that this proposal doesn’t go far enough in protecting communities from unwelcome incursion from the City and developers (scroll to the bottom of this piece for more on that). But moderate change is better than no change?
PHEW! We made it through!