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. Highlights of our successful efforts to “Make Democracy Work for All New Yorkers” include the following:
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 have begun a comprehensive 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. Citizens Union formally launched the campaign in Albany on June 27. It will continue through Election Day. Join the campaign.
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. As city elections approach in November, Gotham Gazette is a trusted, sought-after resource for information on candidates and races. Its 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 nearly 100,000 page views per month, which is up 5% 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. In the end, our efforts resulted in the passage of eight bills—the first in many years to clear both houses and await the governor’s signature. We held a forum in partnership with the Civic Engagement Collaborative on voting reform and its impact on immigrant and new American communities in NYC, training attendees how to press lawmakers to enact reform through phone and social media campaigning.
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 or FY 2018 showed NY state budgets increasingly have few spending criteria, few constraints, and little accountability. Citizens Union identified nearly $13 billion in opaque funds that lack criteria for spending and do not specify any official as having authority.
Police Oversight and Accountability
We co-sponsored a community forum entitled “Safety and Justice: How Should Communities Reduce Violence?” where New Yorkers discussed policing policy and its impact on NYC communities. We met with Judge Ariel Belen, who oversees the response to Floyd v. City of New York and the practice of “stop and frisk” and presented our policy positions on police oversight and accountability to inform Judge Belen’s final report.
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.
In partnership with other good government groups, Citizens Union pushed the state legislature and the governor to enact measures related to public procurement and clean contracting contained in 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 Cory Johnson, and Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis. We live-streamed the event for the first time.