Monthly Archives: February 2010

Term Limits: The Rub with re-Democratizing NYC

NY City Hall

One of the perquisites of being Mayor of NYC is that you get to decide who in the city can make millions of dollars. Officially, the path to city deals—for concessions, leases and major development projects—goes through any one of a number of committees, boards and commissions that dole out the city’s money, seemingly (partially) independent of the mayor. Yet, unofficially, or at least a level or two below the surface of public perception, the mayor’s fingerprints are all over the process. For all of these decision-making groups have two things in common: They were established through the 1989 charter revision, and the mayor appoints a majority of their members. Changing this with a new charter revision will be no simple task. Continue reading

Mom and Pop

Photo: Todd Selby for NY Magazine

While we realize that no good screed goes unpunished, we want to note one of New York City’s most readable — and trenchant — commentaries on current politics, big business, developers, and their incestuous relationship:, the blog of lobbyist Richard Lipsky, voice of the Neighborhood Retail Alliance.

The Village Voice has called Lipsky New York’s best small-business lobbyist. The Times has commented: “In Mr. Lipsky, Howard J. Rubenstein, the public relations executive, meets the late Saul Alinsky, the radical community organizer.”

With credentials like these, Mr. Lipsky doesn’t need us. But we’ll continue to read his blog, because it always goes for the gut. We just hope it never goes for ours.

Staten Island Advance Calls for Independent Charter Commission

In a February 13 editorial, the Staten Island Advance gloomily speculated about the prospect of Mayor Bloomberg’s friend, Billionaire Ronald Lauder, serving as chair of Bloomberg’s anticipated 2010 charter revision commission, and said “The chairman, we believe, should be someone who is totally independent of the mayor as well as other city officials — someone who has no dog in the charter revision fight. It’s the mayor’s commission, but its work will outlast this particular mayor.”

Our comment: “The Advance is right on the mark in criticizing NYC’s one-size-fits-all approach to government, and in calling for an independent charter revision commission. The key, however, will not be the identity of the commission’s chair, but the identity of its executive director. This is who heads up the staff, sets the agenda for the commissioners, and shapes the information that gets out to the press and the public.”

Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize

Several days ago, CityPragmatist observed that former Bloomberg charter revision commission chair Ester Fuchs seemed ideally positioned to play a role at this year’s charter revision commission. A day later, the Daily News floated the name of CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein as Bloomberg’s pick for 2010 chair. The next day,, the news blog of the Staten Island Advance, floated the name of Billionaire Ron Lauder as Bloomberg’s pick. Then, someone called to our attention yet another chair designation: Anthony Crowell, a Bloomberg senior counselor, reported by Edward-Isaac Dovere of City Hall News. What’s going on here? Continue reading

Lauder May be Charter Chairman

Ronald Lauder

Judy Randall of reports that a “well-placed source” says that billionaire businessman Ronald Lauder will be named as the chair of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s 2010 charter revision commission.

Lauder was the principal sponsor of the NYC term limits law rescinded by the City Council before Mayor Bloomberg’s successful run for a third term last fall.

A Bloomberg spokesman told that a public announcement will be made “soon.”

Bloomberg’s Wealth and Charter Revision

Adam Lisberg, Daily News City Hall Bureau Chief, reports that Matthew Goldstein, Chancellor of CUNY, could be Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s choice as chair of a 2010 charter revision commission. To us, the real meat of the DN story isn’t who might head the commission, it’s how the charter process could be affected by Michael Bloomberg’s personal wealth. Lisberg goes there in his last paragraph, where he comments on Bloomberg’s failed 2003 charter attempt to institute non-partisan elections:

In 2003…, Bloomberg spent $7 million of his own money – and $462,000 in city funds – on the nonpartisan election push. Voters rejected the plan 70% to 30%, which Bloomberg still fumes about.

Those of us who tried to influence the 1989 charter revision process remember how hard it was to counter the public relations juggernaut driven by the commission’s professional staff, which was headed by Hofstra University law professor Eric Lane. Continue reading

Charter Revision Hearing Rescheduled

We just received word that the Assembly Standing Committee on Cities public hearing on city charter modification has been rescheduled to Friday, Mar. 5. The hearing, chaired by James Brennan, will be held at 250 Broadway, at 10:30 a.m.

Fuchs: Charter Proposals Not Likely This Year

Ester Fuchs

At Tuesday evening’s charter revision forum at Baruch College, panelist Ester Fuchs, chair of Mayor Bloomberg’s 2005 charter revision commission, responded to a question from moderator Doug Muzzio about the timing of proposals to be advanced by a 2010 commission. When would such a commission’s work product go before the voters? “I think it’s going to be over a year…” Fuchs answered. “I don’t think it’s going to be on the ballot this September.”

Fuchs’ projection was not contested by the other panelists at the forum co-sponsored by Citizens Union, possibly because she had suggested inside knowledge earlier in the session. Although the mayor has not yet named the members of this year’s commission, Fuchs, who recently accepted a fellowship at the Partnership for New York City, is expected to play a role.

A long timetable for this year’s charter revision commission would be consistent with the “top to bottom” restructuring considered probable by the Baruch panelists, who included Stephen Fiala, a member of the 2005 commission, Eric Lane, executive director of the landmark 1989 charter revision commission, and William C. Thompson, the former NYC Comptroller who ran unsuccessfully against Michael Bloomberg for mayor in 2009.

We recently speculated about some of the tactics a 2010 commission could use to manipulate voters’ response to its charter proposals. Nothing we heard from Tuesday’s panelists leads us to believe our speculation was baseless.

What’s Happening to NYC’s Middle Class?

A 2008 Brookings Institution analysis of America’s shrinking middle class showed that between 1970 and 2005, New York lost its middle income group 44% faster than the rest of the nation. Probing this, the NYC-based Center for an Urban Future published a study in February, 2009, which implicated New York’s “sky-high cost of living,” a job mix that had “shifted away from positions that provide middle-income wages and benefits,” the “inferior quality” of the city’s public schools, “long commuting times on public transportation,” and residential development that “seems disturbingly out of scale with existing neighborhoods.”

Do you know a middle class family that has left New York? Was it for any of the reasons CUF mentioned? Do those reasons fully explain why New York’s middle class is vanishing, or are other things driving the middle class out? Write us a comment and share your opinion with our readers.

Parks Group Charter Alert: Community Boards Threatened

In an essay they call “The Five Cs,” the concerned New Yorkers who head the parks advocacy organization, “250+ Friends of Parks,” remind our readers about the possibility that a charter revision this year could try to eliminate community boards. Our own take is that ultimately, a Bloomberg 2010 charter revision commission will not move to eliminate community boards entirely, but can be expected to propose changes that will limit their scope or effectiveness.

The Five Cs piece is after the break, linked to a City Hall News article by Dan Rivoli about new City Council Government Operations Committee Chair Gale Brewer. As Rivoli notes, Brewer may be in favor of eliminating Council lulus, a change we think could strengthen mayoral power at the expense of the Council. Continue reading