2017 YEAR IN REVIEW
Over the past year, Citizens Union has made notable progress in making our city and state government more open and accountable, our politics cleaner, and our elections fairer. Below are highlights of our successful efforts to “Make Democracy Work for All New Yorkers”
This fall, all New Yorkers will vote on a ballot question that occurs every 20 years about whether or not to convene a state constitutional convention. The once-in-a-generation chance to reform our state government and strengthen our democracy is a historic moment. Amending our constitution could reduce rampant corruption found throughout state government, boost voter turnout with a slate of reforms, increase competition for elected offices by holding fairer elections and removing the stain of big money in our campaigns, and make justice more accessible for all by streamlining our state’s byzantine court system. We won’t have another chance until 2037, so we must win a YES vote this year. We are running a rigorous campaign of public education, grassroots organizing, earned and social media, and paid advertising, urging New Yorkers to vote YES. When our elected leaders don’t act, New Yorkers must. A convention is the best way to amend the constitution and create a democracy that values every voice and engages every voter. On November 7th, please go to the polls, turn over your ballot and vote YES on question 1.
An autonomous publication of Citizens Union Foundation, Gotham Gazette serves the public as an important source of news and investigative reporting. Its focus on holding government officials accountable and reporting on the main issues often overlooked elsewhere is sharper than ever, and it has been recognized more and more as a powerful force for meaningful, insightful, and investigative reporting on substantive city and state political issues. As city elections approach in November, Gotham Gazette is a trusted, sought-after resource for information on candidates and races. Gotham Gazette’s reach has grown significantly this year, including through two new podcasts, one of which is produced in partnership with Citizens Budget Commission. Readership is now up 10% over last year and builds on a 20% increase in 2016.
Citizens Union engaged in an aggressive lobbying campaign to push forward key bills in Albany in 2017, aimed at making voting more accessible and improving voter turnout. Staff met with leadership in both the Senate and Assembly, as well as with the election committee chairs in both houses, to aggressively promote our voting reform agenda. Citizens Union participated in a statewide voting reform lobby day with partner organizations and engaged our members through action alerts asking them to push their representatives for these important policy changes. In the end, our efforts resulted in the passage of eight bills—the first in many years to clear both houses.
Spending in the Shadows
We released another Spending in the Shadows report, our twice-yearly analysis of nonspecific lump sum spending in New York State’s Executive Budget and Enacted Budgets. The report examines numerous pots of money under state government control for FY 2018 showing that state budgets increasingly have few spending criteria, few constraints, and little public accountability. Citizens Union identified nearly $13 billion in opaque funds that lack criteria for spending and do not specify any official as having authority.
Mayoral Control of City Schools
We worked with the Mayor’s office to successfully secure two more years of mayoral control of city schools, advancing Citizens Union’s interest in local control over such matters. We worked in partnership with the Mayor’s office and engaged the Citizens Union membership to contact their state senators via an action alert.
We co-sponsored debates for candidates running in all three citywide offices in the General Election – Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller – as well as the Democratic mayoral primary debate. In addition, we will be hosting a forum of the likely candidates for Speaker of the New York City Council, to be held November 20th at New York Law School.
Citizens Union testified at a spring City Council hearing about a bill that would raise the cap on matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board (CFB) from 55% to a 100% match. Citizens Union was the lone organization to take a neutral position on the legislation, urging the Council to wait until the upcoming election and subsequent quadrennial report from the CFB to ensure that the most responsible and necessary reforms are adopted.
Police Oversight and Accountability
We co-sponsored a community forum at Baruch College entitled “Safety and Justice: How Should Communities Reduce Violence?” where Citizens Union members and other New Yorkers were invited to participate in an open discussion about policing policy and its impact on NYC communities. We also held an educational forum in partnership with the Civic Engagement Collaborative on the subject of voting reform and its impact on immigrant and new American communities in New York City, training attendees how to press lawmakers to enact reform through phone and social media campaigning. In addition, Citizens Union staff and engaged members met with Judge Ariel Belen, who oversees the response to Floyd v. City of New York and the practice of “stop and frisk.” In a candid discussion, Citizens Union presented our policy positions on police oversight and accountability. We anticipate these positions to inform Judge Belen’s final report.
In partnership with other good government groups, CU pushed the state legislature and executive branch for significant reform measures related to public procurement and clean contracting. We held a press conference in Albany urging legislative leaders and the Governor to enact the Comptroller’s Clean Contracting Bill, which includes many reforms we have been championing. The bill passed the Senate but did not receive a vote in the Assembly.
Annual Members Meeting
Citizens Union hosted the Annual Members Meeting on May 3 at the CUNY Graduate Center with close to 100 people in attendance. The civic conversation featured Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, Senator Michael Gianaris, City Council Member Corey Johnson, and Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis. We livestreamed the event for the first time.