It was easy to get swept up in the heady mix of busted ballot scanners, a State Senate takeover, and post-election executive branch housekeeping, but now that the dust is (kind of) settling on the 2018 Midterms, let us pause and reflect on the knowledge that all three of the proposals to amend New York City's charter passed.
The first proposal to lower the dollar amount of contributions permitted to candidates for high-ranking positions who (deep breath) participate in the city's public funds matching program while at the same time raising the ratio of matching funds that those candidates receive from the program, passed with 80% of the vote, according to unofficial election results.
It's worth noting that a few days before the election, the City's Independent Budget Office released a report showing how the City's matching program benefited incumbents in 2017: "Twenty-five incumbents received a total of $7.7 million (44 percent) in matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board while 42 challengers received $5.9 million (33 percent)," the report states. The rest of the money (around $4 million) went to candidates in races without incumbents.
The second proposal, the creation of a 15-person Civic Engagement Commission creating a citywide participatory budgeting program and putting interpreters at polling sites, passed 65% to 35%.
The third proposal, creating a term limit of four consecutive two-year terms for Community Board members (currently there is no term limit for CB members, who are appointed by their Borough Presidents), passed 72% to 23%.
In a statement that reminded us of an Herbal Essences TV commercial, Mayor Bill de Blasio was effusive about the propositions' passage, and he had good reason to be: he appointed the charter review commission that came up with them.
"The question in front of voters was simple: are we going to be a city that works for everyone? New Yorkers answered with a resounding ‘YES, YES, YES!’" de Blasio said.
"They voted to set a historic new direction for campaigns in our city by getting big money out of politics. They voted to give voters more power over their tax dollars. They voted to bring new voices into our democracy."
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was less jazzed. Brewer said that Prop 2 could have been accomplished through some City Council legislation, and that Prop 3 will drain Community Boards of New Yorkers with valuable city planning experience, which takes a long time to accrue.
"[Eight years] goes so fast, just to train them in land use, takes at least 5 or 6 years. I was on the City Council for 12 years, I know what it's like to try to get something accomplished. I got most of the work done in the 3rd term to be honest with you," Brewer told Gothamist.
"Eight years is not enough to be the counter to the developer, and the land use attorney, and the land use engineer from the developer. Think about Hudson Yards, think about Essex Crossing...The people who are part of the community board for these projects, I need them in the future. The land use attorneys, I know them all, they have been around since I started this work in 1978, okay? All of them, who work for developers."
(For what it's worth, the Real Estate Board of New York opposed term limits for community board members.)
Transportation Alternatives and Streetspac both supported prop three, and pointed to the lack of racial diversity on Community Boards in Queens as a good reason to encourage turnover.
"This is about good governance," Joe Cutrufo, a spokesperson for TransAlt, told Gothamist. "Community Boards fall short when long term membership doesn't reflect the people and the neighborhoods that they're intended to represent."
“Community Board 1 has more car owners than it has non-car owners,” City Council Member Antonio Reynoso told Streetsblog in support of Prop 3. “We can’t have people on community boards fighting for parking against the interest of saving lives.”
Brewer said she has put "many" TransAlt members on Community Boards.
"I'm sure the people who are on from TA, they're gonna find that eight years aren't enough. I'll be upset when their expertise leaves," Brewer said. "I happen to support most bike lanes, but there's a discussion you have to have. At least in Manhattan, the seniors fight like hell against them. When you have 500 seniors show up, it makes it hard, you gotta convince people."
New Yorkers seeking to amend the City Charter again won't have to wait too long: Brewer and current Public Advocate but soon-to-be New York Attorney General Letitia James created their own City Charter Commission that is meeting this year, and they want to hear your ideas for improving the City.
Brewer suggested she wanted to see a few years of "pre-planning" large developments codified into law, and wanted to institute much smaller "units of appropriation" into the City budgeting process, to make it more transparent.
We suggested that perhaps the start time for construction projects should be 8 a.m., not 7 a.m.
"What's even worse is, they give out permits for the weekends, like they never used to. They never used to give them out unless there was an emergency and a crane," Brewer said. "Why do you have to have a [construction] permit every single weekend, just to be developing, just to be building, when people need sleep?"
You can learn more about the Charter Commission here, or submit your ideas here. Some of them may end up on the back of next year's ballot, though hopefully the Board of Elections will be able to handle them.