City Charter Revision Changes; or Not? This Election: Flip Your Ballot! VOTE!
As-Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu
May the Peace, Mercy and Blessings of Allah Be Upon You
The mid-term election will be held in less than two weeks on November 6. The members of the South East Queens Muslim Collective, Inc. urges EVERYONE WHO IS REGISTERED TO VOTE, TO VOTE as if your life depended upon it! We also highly recommend that non-registered residents encourage their friends, colleagues, family members and neighbors to vote in their interest as well. What this means is to use the right of a citizen they have yet to obtain to vote. It is part of a civic obligation to care for ourselves and others in our community. For many of us, it is also a faith obligation to be of service to others, by the Grace of Allah (God).
In addition to the election of local, state and federal representatives of government, there will be three questions posed to New York City residents for three proposals to the New York City Charter on the ballot on November 6. These proposals will be printed on the flip side of the ballot.
We don't always have proposal questions or referendum voting i.e., proposed prospective laws on the ballot on Election Day. We are used to going to the polling location to vote for a particular person or persons dependent upon which elective offices have reached their term every two or four years. We vote for the incumbent to be re-elected or a new occupant of the office to be elected. If not brought to our attention, who flips the ballot over even out of curiosity when voting? For most of us, it is a hope to be able to rush in and rush out, albeit the civic responsibility is taken quite seriously. We live in a BIG costly and diverse city, in fact, the largest municipality in the United States. A municipality is a city or town that has corporate status and local government. We typically know "corporations" to be a business, an incorporated organization or a company-- and they are, but for sake of clarification, a corporation can also be a city or town that has corporate status and local government and/or a group of people elected to govern a city, town, or borough. People typically work for the "corporation," however in this kind of governmental "corporation" it is supposed to work for the people.
The New York City we know presently, geographically speaking, was originally created as New Amsterdam by Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant in 1656 and was modeled after free cities in Holland. The city passed into the control of the English in 1665, at which time then Governor Richard Nicolls granted it a new charter. The document created the first municipal corporation in colonial America and became a model for other cities (The Tradition of Municipal Reform: Charter Revision in Historical Context; Joseph P. Viteritti). With a consolidated city that came later, it was via a revision of the charter in 1935 under Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia that what we largely know now as a governmental structure in New York City was formed. The Charter Revision Commission came about in 1900 with appointments by then Governor Theodore Roosevelt. With many revisions and iterations since then, the last revision of the Charter was in 2004. The present administration of the City of New York, reflecting on the time since the last revision to the city's Charter and the numerous ways in which the City has changed since 2004, decided to ask New York City residents for their suggestions for changes. Out of more than one thousand submitted ideas, the 2018 Charter Revision Commission comprised of selected New York City government, business and community leaders narrowed it down to three areas that are presented in three proposals to be decided upon by the people of New York City on November 6.
Let's get to the proposals now that we have some historical context.
The first of the three proposals will ask a question about a change to Campaign Finance. It came about as the result of a perceived need to address persistent perceptions of corruption associated with large campaign contributions, boost incentives for campaigns to reach out to small donors, and create more opportunities for candidates to run diverse types of campaigns without the need to rely on large donors. Candidates vying for election in New York City for the offices of Mayor, Public Advocate, Borough President, Comptroller or Council Members can receive donations from corporations as well as individual donors albeit these are not federal office positions (not to be confused with federal campaign financing). Nonetheless, all candidates expend funds that are to be reported so as to deter and/or ensure that no illegal campaign engineering occurs to the disadvantage of the office, the city or to the public to be served by the potential elected official. The proposal would lower contribution limits, increase public matching funds available to participating candidates and make funds available earlier in the process. It would lower and limit the amount of individual donations but increase the match available from public funds from 6:1 to 8:1. The cap on the limit of public funds would be increased from 55% to 75%. The proposed Charter amendments regarding campaign finance would apply to participating candidates who choose to have the amendments apply to their campaigns beginning with the 2021 primary election. The amendments would then apply to all candidates beginning in 2022.
We have all observed that elections for public office are a very costly endeavor. It takes money to become a candidate and cover the costs of a campaign. We should not be confused by the statements of persons who, in the not so distant past, have claimed to have funded their own campaigns. Few can do that and if the few that said they were going to do that, actually did that-- do we know those statements to have been the fact of what occurred? Did they live up to their pledge to spend their own money (or were the words construed to have meant something else)? Would all candidates have to participate in public funds? No. Friends of candidates also raise money for campaigns while the candidate may not directly. Does having a financial advantage make campaigns between vying candidates fair? Does whoever has the most money for their campaign win? If YOU wanted to run for an elected office, would you want or need to have access to financial support from the public for your campaign? If someone who was considered an average New Yorker in your community was someone you wanted to have the opportunity to run for elective office to serve in the best interest of your community or the communities of New York, should funding as well as finance limits exist for him or her (and the competition)? These are some questions that come to mind about the question being asked by the Charter Revision Commission. It is one that each individual can figure out for him/herself. On the ballot, you are asked to vote YES or NO. For the actual language of Proposal #1 Campaign Finance, please click here.
The second proposal concerns Civic Engagement and the establishment of a Civic Engagement Commission for its objectives to be initiated and carried out. These objectives include enhancing civic participation, promoting civic trust, and strengthening democracy in New York City. The participatory budgeting program, already existent in twenty-nine districts in New York City would become a citywide program. The program involves partnering with community-based organizations, civic leaders, and other City agencies in civic engagement efforts and establishing a program to provide language interpreters at City poll sites in the 2020 general election. We also know that language barriers impede many residents from accessing services and interacting in many matters that would benefit hundreds of thousands of families.
You might ask what is civic engagement? Per the Flip Your Ballot website civic engagement is defined as participation by local residents in their neighborhoods, communities, and their City. Civic engagement can take the form of volunteering, community involvement, attending town hall meetings, testifying at public hearings, voting, or other forms of participation offered help to make a difference in a neighborhood or community. As an organization about which one of the focal points is civic engagement that for us includes education, the South East Queens Muslim Collective is fully in support of civic engagement, in principle. Specifically, given the diversity of the borough of Queens, the most diverse county in the United States and the diversity of city dwellers overall in New York City, we learned that more than two hundred languages are spoken by New York City residents during the recent Flip Your Ballot Information Session held on October 24, 2018 at the SUNY-Queens EOC. SEQMC sincerely thanks Laurie Davidson and Jorge Montalvo whose presentation truly informed us of what the proposals are and influenced us to stay involved throughout the remainder of the Flip Your Ballot campaign.
New York City Charter Revision Commission Members, Community Board #12, Islamic Circle
North America (ICNA), community residents and South East Queens Muslim Collective at
Flip Your Ballot Information Session, SUNY-Queens EOC, October 24, 2018
One of the proposed activities of the Civic Engagement Commission would expand participatory budgeting to all fifty-nine districts in New York City. Participatory budgeting allows community residents to propose ideas for the expenditure of public funds to improve their community. After the proposals are submitted and reviewed for feasibility, those selected are voted upon by community residents within that district. Want a community center in your community so youth have somewhere designed for them to go for academic and fun recreational activities in their spare time? Want your local park grounds improved or the bathrooms renovated? These are the kinds of ideas that participatory budgeting can support as a project to improve a community. One of the best features about it may be that individuals as young as eleven years old can vote on the proposals to be funded. An eleven year old can also submit a proposal! Seems to be a grand way in which to teach and influence young people at a time in their lives when they can become excited about being engaged in their community and increase understanding of a democratic process as it unfolds before their eyes. On the ballot, you are asked to vote YES or NO. To view the exact language that will be on the ballot for Proposal #2. Civic Engagement, please click here.
The third and final proposal concerns Community Boards. New York City is comprised of five boroughs each having its own designated electoral districts with each having a Community Board. The role of the fifty nine (59) Community Boards in New York City, each considered an autonomous City agency, is important toward improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers. The purpose of each New York City Community Board is to encourage and facilitate the participation of citizens within City government within their communities, and the efficient and effective organization of agencies that deliver municipal services in local communities and boroughs. Each Community Board member is a City Officer. The City Charter also allows boards to submit their own plans for the development, growth, and improvement of their communities.
Community boards are each composed of up to 50 volunteer members appointed by the local borough president, half from nominations by City Council members representing the community district (i.e., whose council districts cover part of the community district). Each community board is led by a District Manager, with an office and staff, whose primary purpose is to coordinate the delivery of services to the community. Non-board members may also join or work on board committees. Each borough also has a borough board, composed of the borough president, council members from the borough, and the chairperson of each community board in the borough.
The Charter Revision Commission proposes changes designed to help make community boards more reflective of the communities they represent and more effective in that representation. The proposal would establish term limits for community board members, create standard application requirements and require the proposed Civic Engagement Commission to provide additional resources to community boards. In order for the additional resources to materialize, the Proposal #2 for the creation of the Civic Engagement Commission has to also be approved. Term limits will allow appointed Community Board members to serve four terms of two years each. After completing the maximum number of consecutive terms, the Board member may be re-appointed after a one-term (2 year) break. During this break-in-service time should the community resident (former Board member) wish to return to the Community Board afterwards, he/she may participate on Community Board committees and volunteer in other capacities but will not serve as a voting Community Board appointee.
The proposal also includes language about expected reporting requirements, subject to appropriation i.e., funding, for the Borough Presidents to provide detail to the Mayor, Speaker and City Council about the membership of Community Boards and what the process was in determining its composition. The kinds of questions to be asked might include those that involve selection of board members e.g., what outreach efforts to recruit board members were utilized? The Civic Engagement Commission in coordination with the Department of City Planning and other agencies would be required to support the training needs of community board membership regarding land use matters, as another example.
The needs of limited English proficient residents would also be addressed via staff training and language assistance tools. Effective communication is an imperative for effective communities. As such, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications would be required to provide support to community boards in maintaining websites and assistance to Borough Presidents in making community board applications available online. Community Boards would be required to maintain websites that provide adequate public notice of upcoming meetings, board minutes and contact information.
To view the exact language that will appear on the ballot concerning Proposal #3, Community Boards, click here.
The amendments to the New York City Charter would take place on January 1, 2019 except that the amendments requiring a proposed Civic Engagement Commission to provide resources to community boards would take effect on April 1, 2019.
Each of these three proposals requires a separate vote from each voter. Proposals that obtain a majority of 50% + 1 of the completed voter tally either YES or NO, will be the outcome for each proposal.
WE CAN DO THIS! YES. YOU. CAN.
To see how the process of completing the ballot, what it looks like, etc., please visit the Flip Your Ballot website right now. At the website you can read the Final Report of the 2018 New York City Charter Revision Commission, the Executive Summary, and see what the ballot language will look and read like exactly. You can also find out how you can get involved with the Flip Your Ballot campaign. There is still time to help!
Interested in finding out in advance who will be on your ballot? Please visit Ballotpedia for a quick lookup. You can also view the voting tallies from other elections in which the candidate ran. Interesting fact finding to see if we can REALLY GET OUR COMMUNITIES OUT WITH A MEGA TURNOUT IN THE 2018 ELECTION. There is also a WNYC Online Voter's Guide that is available via a collaboration between City Limits, New York Public Radio, WNYC, The Gothamist and NJ Spotlight. It provides detailed information on the candidates and their positions on the issues, to the extent there is a public record or note. We HIGHLY recommend it! Here is the link to it: https://voterguide.wnyc.org
Please do not hesitate to share this blog post with others. If you'd like to reach out to the South East Queens Muslim Collective (SEQMC), Inc. please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org; 718-663-4644 or via the Contact Us form on the SEQMC website: https:seqmc1.wixsite.com/home/contactus
Fi'aman Allah (In God's Safety)