It’s a clean sweep for mayor’s ballot proposals

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | Manhattan voters had an opportunity to modify the city’s democracy in small, but critical, ways on Tuesday — and the majority opted for “Yes” on all three proposals.
Three ballot proposals issued by the mayor’s commission to consider revisions to the City Charter were on the back side of New Yorkers’ ballots. One proposed to reduce the maximum allowable amount for campaign financial contributions, plus increase the amount of public funding available for city candidates. A second called for the creation of a citywide Civic Engagement Commission. A third proposed to add term limits for community boards.

The first proposal, on campaign finances, won with 80 percent of the vote, according to New York City Board of Elections results. Some 65 percent of New Yorkers voted for the Civic Engagement Commission, and 72 percent voted for community board term limits.

Despite the citywide “Yes” votes, many who went to the polls in Chelsea and Greenwich Village were concerned about handing over more power to the mayor, and feared community boards would be stripped of their seeming institutional power against developers in land-use decisions. However, most development is built “as of right” without formal community board recommendation.

“I personally kind of despise Mayor de Blasio,” said Suchi Mathur, an immigration attorney working in the Bronx who has lived in the Village for four years. Mathur voted against the Civic Engagement Commission for that reason, as well as “No” on community board term limits. But she blackened the oval for “Yes” on the campaign finance proposal.

Handing out a palm card near the St. Anthony’s Church poll site in Soho on Nov. 6, urging voters to approve all three ballot proposals from the Mayor’s Charter Revision Commission. Photo by Tequila Minsky

The second ballot proposal establishes a Civic Engagement Commission to create a citywide participatory budgeting program, like what exists in the City Council currently. The commission will also provide added language interpreters at election polling sites, which will be in place for the general election by 2020. The plan is for the commission to have 15 members, with eight appointed by the mayor, two by the City Council speaker and one by each borough president.

Mathur said she would rather keep the power in the borough, and though she thinks more interpreters at polling sites is a great idea, she would rather the City Council take the lead.

Like some other voters, Mathur was conflicted over the idea of community board term limits.

Community board members are volunteer and the boards’ recommendations on a range of city issues are advisory only. They are appointed by the borough president — with half of them recommended to the borough president by local city councilmembers — and make recommendations to elected officials and city agencies about land-use matters, transportation and other issues.

The ballot proposal will limit board members to four consecutive two-year terms and require borough presidents to seek out more diverse members. Members who serve the maximum of eight years could be reappointed later on, as long as they take a two-year break from being on the board. The mayor’s commission said term limits would make the boards more representative of the people in the districts they cover.

“I was pretty torn on the second two [proposals],” Mathur said. “It’s tough because I want there to be more diversity in community boards, too.”

If the term limits were longer — say, 12 years — she might have voted “Yes,” she said.

For many, lowering the permissable dollar amount for campaign contributions was a given.

Limiting contributions is a small step to “even the playing field,” and balance income inequality among candidates, said Peter Steinglass, a psychiatrist who lives on W. 15th St.

“Capping off” a big Election Day, Lower East Side documentarian Clayton Patterson cast his votes on Tuesday. Photo by Q. Sakamaki

After discussing the proposals with a close friend and reading The New York Times editorial, Steinglass opted to vote for the lower campaign contribution caps but against the Civic Engagement Commission and community board term limits.

Under the campaign contributions proposal approved by voters on Tuesday, contribution limits for candidates will be lowered from the current amounts, between $2,850 to $5,100, to between $1,000 and $3,500, depending on which elected position a candidate is seeking and whether or not he or she opts into the city’s public matching-funds program.

The public matching-funds program will allow candidates running for all offices to receive $8 in public funds for every $1 they raise for up to $250 for citywide positions and $175 for borough president or City Council. For instance, a $500 contribution would be matched with $2,000 for citywide offices and $1,400 for borough president or City Council.

“I think we have a lot of the same class and type of people that are running for office, and especially young people don’t see that it’s possible [for them to run for office],” said Chelsea Earlewine, a Chelsea resident who works in event marketing, who voted “Yes” on all three ballot proposals.

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