Voter Test Prep: The Charter Revision Questions

Friday, October 22, 2010


Candidates aren't the only choices voters will have to make on the (increasingly confusing) New York ballot. Term limits, one of the most controversial legacies of Mayor Bloomberg, are back with a vengence—do you support reimposing a two term limit on city elected officials?  Plus, you'll need to say yay or nay to a seven-tiered proposal to revise the City Charter.

At It's A Free Country, we don't want you to be taken by surprise on election day by what's on your ballot. First of all, remember to turn the ballot over! These yes-or-no questions will be on the back.

Here is the official text of the two questions, along with reasons to vote YES or NO, conveniently provided by the NYC Campaign Finance Board. On the CFB website you can also find excerpts from the public commentary which led up to these questions being on the ballot:

QUESTION 1. Term Limits: The proposal would amend the City Charter to:


  • Reduce from three to two the maximum number of consecutive full terms that can be served by elected city officials; and
  • Make this change in term limits applicable only to those city officials who were first elected at or after the 2010 general election; and
  • Prohibit the City Council from altering the term limits of elected city officials then serving in office.

  •  Shall this proposal be adopted?


QUESTION 2. Elections and Government Administration: The proposal would amend the City Charter to:


  • Disclosure of Independent Campaign Spending: Require public disclosure of expenditures made by entities and individuals independent from candidates to influence the outcome of a city election or referendum;
  • Ballot Access: Generally reduce the number of petition signatures needed by candidates for city elective office to appear on a ballot;
  • Voter Assistance and Campaign Finance Board: Merge voter assistance functions, including a reconstituted Voter Assistance Advisory Committee, into the Campaign Finance Board, and change when Campaign Finance Board member terms begin;
  • Conflicts of Interest Law: Require all public servants to receive conflicts of interest training, raise the maximum fine for a public servant who violates the City's conflicts of interest law, and allow the City to recover any benefits obtained from such violations;
  • City Administrative Tribunals: Authorize the Mayor to direct the merger of administrative tribunals and adjudications into the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings and permit the Department of Consumer Affairs to adjudicate all violations issued by that department;
  • City Reporting Requirements and Advisory Bodies: Create a commission to review requirements for reports and advisory bodies and waive the requirements, subject to City Council review, where the commission finds they are not of continuing value; and
  • Map for Facility Siting: Include in the City's facilities siting map those transportation and waste management facilities operated by or for governmental entities, or by private entities that provide comparable services.

  • → Shall this proposal be adopted?


Reasons to Vote YES on Question 1

  • A two-term limit for elected city officials was passed by voters twice. Question 1 would return term limits to the two-term limit previously approved by the city's voters.
  • Officials do not need three terms in office to develop policies responsive to the needs of New York City. What is really needed is the independence and creativity of citizen-politicians who are experienced and knowledgeable about the real world outside of government.
  • The longer elected officials serve, the more indebted they may become to special interest groups, both within and outside government, at the expense of their constituents.
  • The President of the United States, a majority of state governors, and many county and city elected officials across the nation are subject to a two-term limit in their offices.
  • The proposal prohibits the City Council from altering their own term limits and those of other current elected officials.

Reasons to Vote NO on Question 1

  • Since there is no proposal to eliminate term limits altogether, opponents of term limits should vote "no" to stick with the current limit of three terms rather than two terms.
  • In a democracy, voters should have the power to decide who represents them. If elected officials are doing a good job of representing their constituents, voters should have the right to keep them in office for a third term.
  • New York City has a powerful mayor because he prepares the budget and delivers services. Serving three terms helps Council members gain the expertise, good working relationships, and ability to implement longer term plans, to serve as a counterbalance to the mayor.
  • Officials in their last term may spend more time looking for their next job instead of representing their constituents. Special interests that can provide an official with a job after the term ends may gain favor. A two-term limit may accelerate this.
  • Question 1 would restrict the Council's ability to legislate term limits. The Charter should not dictate which issues are beyond the Council's legislative authority.

Reasons to Vote YES on Question 2

  • Under the proposed amendment, voters will have more information about persons and groups who spend money to influence the outcome of New York City elections.
  • People will know who paid for the campaign mailings, commercials, and other communications they see and hear during elections.
  • Many people believe that the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, which eliminated restrictions on independent expenditures in federal elections, will lead to increased spending by corporations and unions in elections at all levels of government. Passing this proposal will help shine a light on this activity.

  • Reducing the number of petition signatures required to get on the ballot in New York City will make it easier and less expensive to run for office.
  • More candidates may run for office, giving the voters more choices at the polls.
  • Council candidates running on independent lines will no longer be disadvantaged by higher signature requirements.

  • It will be more efficient to combine the voter education and assistance activities currently conducted separately by the CFB and VAC.

  • The city should require and provide COIB training for all public servants, so they will know the rules they are expected to follow. New training methods will keep the costs under control.
  • Public servants will be less likely to break the rules if they can't profit from unethical behavior and may face higher fines.
  • The maximum fine for an ethics violation has not been increased since 1989.

  • Using the same procedures for all cases would make it easier for people appearing at these tribunals.
  • The proposal may increase fairness, because the hearings would be held at OATH, a neutral tribunal, rather than the agency that wrote the violation.
  • Consolidating city tribunals into OATH may save money and be more efficient because the administrative duties for the tribunals would be handled by one office.

  • Eliminating unnecessary boards and agency reports may save city resources.
  • Some required reports and advisory boards are outdated, duplicative, or do not provide useful information.

  • Adding transportation and waste management facilities to the map will help policy makers and the public see when a neighborhood already has its fair share of these types of facilities.
  • When policy makers see that these facilities are concentrated in one neighborhood, they may try to place new facilities elsewhere.

Reasons to Vote NO on Question 2

  • Persons and groups may not want to exercise their right to take part in the political process and make independent expenditures if they must disclose the details of their activities.
  • Some people or groups may not want to put their name on campaign literature or advertisements, perhaps out of fear of harassment or retribution.
  • Independent expenditures have always been a part of New York City's elections. The Citizens United decision does not require that the law be changed.

  • Reducing the number of petition signatures required to get on the ballot in New York City will allow candidates who do not have very much community support to run for office.
  • No change in city law can address all the obstacles to getting on the ballot.

  • Restructuring VAC may reduce its visibility in the community, and may reduce its effectiveness in encouraging greater voter participation and voter registration in the city.

  • More training, bigger fines, and being required to pay back money received for breaking the rules may not make public servants more honest. People are either honest or they aren't.
  • Increasing training will cost money

  • This issue is too complex to rush into. We should take more time to study the impact.
  • The proposal may not increase judicial independence, because Question 2 does not require tribunal ALJs to have the same job security as OATH ALJs.

  • Creating a commission is unnecessary. The mayor could already require agencies to review and identify outdated requirements themselves, and the City Council could pass legislation to eliminate some boards or requirements.
  • The commission created under this proposal may be more expensive than the reports and committees it will recommend eliminating, especially because it is open-ended.

  • The city needs these facilities and no neighborhood wants them. The addition of transportation and waste management facilities to the map is merely a change in the paperwork and will not affect where the new or expanded facilities are located.

If you're still with us after all this text, let us know what you think about these proposed revisions by posting a comment!



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Comments [5]

libby from Staten island

Who can we write to about this?
It used lawyer language! how many people actually understood what they were reading.

it's enough that all the bills that are passed in the house and senate have all the extra baggage snuck into them, but really? for voters? on the ballot? that's just low.

really shows that change is needed in this government

Nov. 02 2010 10:20 PM
Dana Elzenbeck from THE Bronx

Bloomberg: "... just a BIT dictatorial ?"

Nov. 02 2010 02:15 PM
Laura from Brooklyn

Thank you Brian and WNYC for explaining these issues so well! Now, I will definitely vote no on 1, because it seems very arbitrary, yes on 2 because even though all those confusing initiatives should not be lumped together, now that I understand what they are I think most of them are good ideas... going to my polling place!

Nov. 02 2010 09:32 AM
Ray Lopez from Astoria

Without the detail above, how would ay Voter have any Idea what the abridged versions mean. And even then ? What a novel idea to put ALL those unrelated items together on an UP/Down vote !?!

Nov. 01 2010 08:12 PM
Rajat Gupta from Long Island

On the question of term limits although one may argue what Bloomberg did was wrong and a bit dictatorial I believe it was justified and necessary at that point. The reason being is that he was the best candidate for the job at that point. Bloomberg understood the city needed a strong leader at that point and was willing to take the flack to ensure that happens. One can argue this sets a dangerous precedent (which it may have), and breaks ideals etc etc, but the truth is we live in a world of practicality. The problem with politics is that politicians work to get votes and side with party lines which in many cases are not good for the people. Just because the public does not like something does not mean it's not good for them. Politicians must make those tough decisions and stand by them as Bloomberg has. These decisions payoff in the long term which will be realized by the public.

Oct. 26 2010 08:44 AM

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