In the lead-up to election day, New Yorkers will see subway, radio, and television ads calling on them to “flip the ballot” to weigh in on ballot initiatives that could revamp the city’s racial justice agenda.
The City Council speaker, comptroller, and other elected officials launched the $5 million education and outreach campaign on the steps of City Hall this week.
“People hear me saying all the time: Flip the ballot. Flip it, or you'll miss it,” said Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and executive director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies and chair of the 11-member Racial Justice Commission that crafted the questions. “Because we have an opportunity – a historic opportunity – to shape the future of our city.”
The three ballot questions – on the back side of the Nov. 8 ballot – would require the city to abide by new sweeping equity goals, create an agency and commission overseeing a new racial equity goal-setting process, and annually measure a new “true cost of living” metric to inform policy decisions.
“We have been the place where that statue stays in the harbor, welcoming people,” said Comptroller Brad Lander. “We have to do better at actually making this a place where equality is made.”
That was the directive of the Racial Justice Commission, formed by former Mayor Bill de Blasio in the last year of his tenure to root out structural racism by amending the city’s charter.
After reading other city and national constitutions, the commission crafted a sweeping preamble to the charter proposed in the first ballot question. The text calls on city officials to strive toward “a just and equitable city for all,” with a list of specific goals like ensuring affordable housing, quality education, and resources to build wealth.
The preamble would also include an acknowledgement of the original Lenape tribe inhabiting the city and the ongoing impacts of slavery and structural racism. City auditors, like the comptroller, would have to consider the preamble when evaluating city policies, according to Melanie Ash, the commission's general counsel.
The second proposal would require the city and its agencies to craft “Racial Equity” plans every two years – at the same time as the budget planning process – with goals and strategies to “reduce or eliminate” racial disparities. A new Office of Racial Equity would coordinate the process, and a new Commission on Racial Equity appointed by city elected officials would propose priorities.
The new “true cost of living” metric – in the third ballot question – aims to provide an alternative to the federal and city poverty limits used to determine eligibility for government services and programs, such as affordable housing. The new metric would take into account needs like housing, food, childcare, transportation, hygiene, and cleaning products, telephone and internet service, and “other necessary costs.”
The deadline for registering to vote in the Nov. 8 election is Friday, Oct. 14, with early in-person voting from Oct. 29 to Nov. 6.