April’s Charter Revision Hearings: What Did They Accomplish?

Matthew Goldstein

A couple of days ago we posted a story about how the Daily News tried to convince its readers that mayoral aide Howard Wolfson was wrong when he told NY1 that Mike Bloomberg will dictate the agenda for the 2010 NYC Charter Revision Commission.

The News was protecting commission chair Matthew Goldstein and his colleagues — who have steadfastly insisted that the commission will act independently — from potential accusations that they are dupes or liars. It also was trying to bolster public confidence that public testimony matters at the commission’s hearings. Does it? The answer is “yes, but maybe not the way you think.”

Independence Party speaker Lenora Fulani

The commission needs public testimony consistent with its own agenda if it is to portray itself as responsive to New Yorkers at large. To guarantee such testimony, the mayor and the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) have funded the NY Independence Party, which provided up to 20% of the attendees at the April hearings, as well as testimony from party members and supporters. The Independence Party’s visible presence and its push for non-partisan city elections, which Mike Bloomberg’s 2003 charter commission supported, will enable his 2010 commission to place this initiative on the ballot again as a populist imperative.

At least one observer also noticed that a recent Bloomberg-constructed budget squeeze on the city’s community boards, which was announced shortly before the commission’s April hearings, yielded the equivalent of scripted testimony from dozens of board representatives and a few borough presidents. If and when community board budgets get restored in response to this outcry, the charter revision commission, as well as the mayor, the borough presidents, and the City Council (which will do the heavy lifting), all will have strengthened the perception that everyone was paying attention at the charter commission’s public hearings.

So, public testimony does matter. Handled well, it makes government look responsive to constituents. In this sense, the recent charter revision commission hearings can be viewed as theater, with the Independence Party folks, the community board people, and the borough presidents its actors, the charter commissioners as required scenery, and the media and the public as the primary audience.

Note to Readers: An earlier version of this post included discussion of the commission’s plans for next month. We’ve decided to run that as a separate post tomorrow.

One response to “April’s Charter Revision Hearings: What Did They Accomplish?

  1. Pingback: Like a Pigeon on a Train - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com

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