James F. Brennan
John Keefe, 718-788-7221
Charter Commission Reform Bills Passed by State Assembly; Stealth Commission Struggles to Maintain Facade as it Concludes 2 Week Blitz of Little Publicized Hearings
On Wednesday, the NY State Assembly adopted two bills sponsored by Jim Brennan (D-Bklyn) that reform the workings of mayoral appointed charter commissions. The first (A.10055) allows the City Council, by a ? vote, to prevent a charter commission question from being placed on the ballot. The second (A.10172) sets a Feb. 15 deadline by which to create a commission - otherwise the commission must put its questions on the following year unless the legislative body gives its consent. The bill also requires the ballot questions to be separately identifies for a vote to the maximum extent possible. Senator Eric Adams is the sponsor of the first bill in the State Senate (S.7216) and Senator Huntley is the sponsor of the second (S.7344).
The need for this legislation was on display as Mayor Bloomberg's hand-picked Charter Commission raced through five borough hearings where public attendance was sparse. The hearings were little publicized.
Assemblymember Brennan was one of only 17 people who testified at the Manhattan hearing on April 6. He also provided testimony at the Brooklyn hearing on Tuesday.
In his remarks Tuesday, Brennan noted that neither Mayor Bloomberg nor the Charter Commission has articulated the purpose of the current commission. Tuesday, on the night of the final hearing, NY1' s Inside City Hall aired an interview with Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson in which he stated that he did not anticipate that eliminating the Public Advocate or Borough Presidents would be proposed, but that the Charter Commission "certainly will have term limits on the ballot." He also thought that nonpartisan elections could pass this year. Deputy Mayor Wolfson was co-chief strategist and communications director for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign before serving as senior strategist for Bloomberg's 2009 re-election campaign. This prompted Commission Chair Goldstein to send a memo yesterday to commission members: "As we move into our next phase, a series of issue forums in May and June, I want to reinforce that no decisions or recommendations have been made regarding recommendations for amending the City Charter. Our independence must be an inviolate principle inextricably linked to our work," Goldstein wrote (memo downloaded from Daily News' Daily Politics blog).
"Despite Commission Chair Goldstein's protestations, Deputy Mayor Wolfson's remarks make clear that the Mayor's Commission has a hard, pre-determined agenda. Since the 1989 Charter Commission, we have had seven charter commissions, three appointed by Giuliani and now four appointed by Bloomberg. Unfortunately, mayors have used these charter commissions for power games rather than solicit broad public input on the workings of municipal government," Brennan said.
"Mayoral charter commissions are hand-picked. They conduct pro-forma hearings and then place the mayor's agenda on the ballot and block out other visions. It is an abuse of power," Brennan said.
In testimony presented on her behalf at a March 5 public hearing of the State Assembly's Standing Committee on Cities that focused on the defects of mayoral charter commissions, Speaker Christine Quinn labeled Mayor Bloomberg's ability to solely pick the members of his charter commission as an "electorate of one".