Panel recommends changes in voting, public advocate role
New Yorkers will have a whole new system of voting in elections if a recommendation made by the Charter Revision Commission is adopted.
The commission is calling for New York City to implement a ranked choice voting system in which voters would rank the candidates by preference order. Under the current system, voters cast their ballots for one candidate running for each public office.
The current system is problematic, according to the commission, because it allows a winner to squeak by with only a small share of the vote that might not be truly reflective of the wishes of the larger electorate. Under a ranked choice voting system, the candidate who ranks first on the fewest ballots is removed from contention until, after multiple rounds, one candidate emerges with the majority of votes.
The commission, called Charter 2019 NYC, is holding public hearings all over the city between April 30 and May 14 to gauge public opinion on its various recommendations. The Brooklyn hearing will take place on Thursday, May 2, at Borough Hall at 6 p.m.
The voting procedure change is part of the commission’s preliminary staff report released on April 23. The report includes a variety of recommendations dealing with such matters as empowering the Civilian Complaint Review Board that deals with accusations of police misconduct, increasing community engagement in land use issues and bringing more transparency to the city budget process.
“In 1989, the public endorsed the groundbreaking work of the Charter Revision Commission, which overhauled the City Charter,” Commission Chairperson Gail Benjamin said in a statement. “Thirty years later, Charter 2019 NYC hopes to continue their efforts and propose charter amendments that reflect modern challenges facing New Yorkers. This is a top-to-bottom review of our city’s constitution. We’re proposing changes ranging from police accountability to how voters elect their public officials.”
Former Bay Ridge City Council member Sal Albanese is a member of the commission. Albanese, a Democrat, represented Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst from 1981 to 1997.
With respect to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the commission is calling for major changes in how it operates that would include allowing the City Council to appoint board members. Currently the mayor appoints all 13 members of the board, with some members recommended by the Council and the police commissioner.
In addition to its recommendations, the commission is also weighing other changes to the City Charter before it issues its final report in July.
The possible changes would include strengthening the role of the city’s public advocate to give him or her subpoena power. “The role of public advocate is to be a watchdog and check on the mayor, but the office has no real mechanism to do so,” the commission’s press release reads.
The commission is looking at beefing up the role of the city’s five borough presidents by requiring agencies to provide borough presidents with documents and records related to their budget and land use responsibilities.
Speaking of land use, the commission is considering giving local community boards more time to respond to Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) applications. Under the current system, community boards have 60 days to study a ULURP application and submit a recommendation to the city on whether a major development, such as a high-rise building, should be given the go-ahead.
ULURP applications are often multi-layered and deal with complex land use issues, according to Community Board 10 Zoning Committee Chairperson Brian Kaszuba, who endorsed the idea of giving community boards more time. It will allow the boards to make better, more informed decisions, he said
“Sixty days sounds like a lot of time, but it’s really not. I’m glad the commission is taking a look at this,” Kaszuba told this newspaper.
Charter 2019 NYC will release its final report, containing it final list of recommendations, in July. The public will vote on Election Day, Nov. 5, on whether the City Charter should be changed to include the commission’s recommendations.