New Yorkers Vote to Change City Charter

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An after-work rush of voters at Camp Friendship in Park Slope, Brooklyn. (Camilo Smith/The Brooklyn Ink)

An after-work rush of voters at Camp Friendship in Park Slope, Brooklyn. (Camilo Smith/The Brooklyn Ink)

By LaToya Tooles

In addition to electing new state and city officials, New York voters approved two ballot measures that make changes to the city charter.  The first measure limits newly elected city officials to two consecutive terms; the second measure imposes campaign finance regulations and makes a series of relatively minor administrative changes.

By voting yes, 70 percent of voters overturned the city council’s 2008 decision to allow three terms, a controversial decision that lead to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s third term in office.

“It’s pretty clear that the limits were extended for the mayor and other people to run again and now the proposal is to backtrack on that,” Columbia University professor Robert Shapiro said.

Bloomberg told The New York Times on Tuesday he would vote in favor of the two-term limit. “I don’t think it’s hypocritical at all,” he said. “The public clearly wants to go back to two terms.”

Voters interviewed after the election said they did not begrudge Bloomberg his handling of the matter.

“He’s a really smart and shrewd businessperson so I understand the reason why he did it,” said Susan Goldberg, who voted for a two-year limit. “But there should be a rule and we should stick to the rule.”

“I’m not much for taking away liberties that already exist,” said Mary Brucolli, 47. “I assumed the initiative was coming up because of [Bloomberg] specifically, but I don’t think you can legislate for one specific instance like that.”

The revision also discourages the City Council from changing term limits again.

“The people that are sitting now could change [the term limits],” said Lorna Goodman, executive director of the Charter Revision Commission, “but they could only change it going forward and not for themselves.”

The second ballot measure, which won 82.6 percent approval, tightens campaign finance regulations, among other changes to the charter.

It requires an individual person who spends more than $1,000 or an independent group that spend $5,000 or more on elections to report the spending to the Campaign Finance Board.

Brooklyn voter John Rose said he voted yes because this election highlighted the need for a more careful look at campaign spending.

“We had record spending as far as campaigns are concerned,” Rose said. “If you are prepared to spend x number of dollars on a candidate it’s nice to know what they are doing or going to do that warrants that kind of money.”

The other items on question two are considered “housekeeping matters” by the Carter Revision Commission, according to executive director Lorna Goodman.

The approved items  reduce  the number of signatures needed for a would-be public official to run for office, merge the Voter Assistance Commission and the campaign finance board and require anyone who works for the city to receive mandatory training on conflict of interests rules and to face harsher punishment for infractions.

Another measure allows the mayor to combine several agency-run courts that conduct hearings on violation to city laws and regulations and requires the city to include private services to a map that publishes the city’s health and social services, transportation and waste management facilities for residents.

Finally, the revision requires the mayor to form a task force to review all the reports and statistics that government agencies must release to the public and recommend which ones they should change or eliminate.

One voter thought the ballot measure was too complicated to decide on with one vote.

“I voted against the second ballot questions because I felt there were a number of ballot items I had different opinions on,” said 34-year-old Stephen Schultz, who works in finance in Manhattan.

Shapiro acknowledged the complexity, but said most  New York voters tend to trust the work of the revision commission, said Shapiro. “[The measure] comes from the charter revision committee so that has a certain heft and weight to it, especially when it comes to issues that are complicated and unclear.”

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