Proponents of a new racial justice agenda on the ballot this year in New York City are hoping for a sweeping endorsement by city residents, for whom early voting began Saturday.
New Yorkers weigh in on three proposals on the Nov. 8 ballot collectively aimed at addressing systemic racism and its impacts on city life.
The Racial Justice Commission that crafted the ballot proposals say the measures aim to place racial equality at the center of government decision-making in the city.
The initiative aims to be one of the most enduring follow-ups to the social and racial justice reckoning that followed the 2020 murder of George Floyd in by police Minneapolis. Those protests spurred calls to “do better” from Wall Street to Hollywood to city halls.
Here’s what to know about the three proposals, found on the back of the 2022 city ballot:
What are the proposals?
Representatives of the Racial Justice Commission that crafted the proposals say the three questions, while separate, are intended to work together to create a vision for racial justice in the city, the tools to achieve it, and a mechanism to hold leaders accountable.
The first measure asks whether to add a preamble to the City Charter calling on city agencies and officials to work toward a “just and equitable city for all,” including in housing, education, and the allocation of resources. The statement would also include an indigenous land acknowledgment – a nod to the original Lenape tribe inhabiting the city – and recognition of the toll of systemic racism.
The second asks whether to create a new city agency and commission to lead a citywide planning process aimed at improving racial equity.. The city and its agencies would have to craft “Racial Equity Plans” every two years, along with their strategies and goals to improve racial equity and “reduce or eliminate” the city’s racial disparities. A new Commission on Racial Equity appointed by city elected officials would propose priorities for the planning process, and a new Office of Racial Equity would coordinate it.
The third asks whether to require the city to create and annually measure a new “true cost of living” metric, including housing, childcare, transportation, medical care, household items and other expenses. With this last proposal, the commission aimed to shift the city away from the federal and local measures of poverty, which are used to determine eligibility for public benefits but widely criticized as too low and outdated.
Who came up with the ideas?
The Racial Justice Commission, an 11-person group formed by former Mayor Bill de Blasio in March of last year to revise the City Charter to target structural racism. The group is chaired by Jennifer Jones Austin, the CEO and executive director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies.
The commission crafted the measures based on consultations with other cities, agency experts, academics, local community groups and input from thousands of New Yorkers who gave public and written testimony on what racial justice means to them. They published their final report in December last year.
Why did they choose these proposals?
There was no way to put on the ballot all the many racial justice issues voiced by the public, Austin said at a panel discussion at Columbia University. Instead of crafting policies and programs, the commission wanted to institute structural changes to address the root causes of inequality — with lasting impact that couldn't be unraveled by changes in a mayoral administration.
“You cannot put a Band-Aid on a wound that runs deep,” Austin said.
Where does Mayor Eric Adams stand?
When asked about the proposals — including the prospect of a new agency under his purview — Amaris Cockfield, a spokesperson for the mayor, said in a statement, “This administration is fully committed to advancing equity.”
She pointed to the Mayor’s Office of Equity he created earlier this year, which houses the Racial Justice Commission, and addresses gender equity and related issues. Earlier this year, Adams allocated $5 million for a voter outreach and education campaign on the ballot measures.
How have others responded?
Opponents reject the proposals as a waste of city time and resources, and even some proponents worry about implementation.
The “soaring” language offers a rare and much-needed progressive vision of the future, said Khary Lazarre-White, executive director of The Brotherhood Sister Sol, a Harlem-based youth and education social justice organization, at the Columbia panel.
But he fears the city will fall short in following through on the agenda, citing a lack of staffing, funding and power.
“In my view – I say this as an organizer and activist – the ball is in our court,” Lazarre-White said at the panel. “I don't have the faith that government will achieve the equity we're talking about.”
How do I vote on the proposals?
Visit the Board of Elections website to find out your early voting and Election Day polling sites. Then make sure to flip to the back of your ballot and mark “yes” or “no” on the three proposals. They follow a statewide question on whether to borrow billions of dollars to bolster environmental infrastructure