How Not to Revise a City Charter

A Guide to Subverting the Process of Democracy

Charter Revision is supposed to be a chance for all New Yorkers to shape the constitution of our city. But few seem to be aware of the contents of the referendum on next Tuesday's ballot. Fewer still are fully aware of the steps Mayor Rudy Giuliani's Charter Revision Commission, chaired by Randy M. Mastro, former mayoral chief of staff, took to get us here. So in the interest of spreading the gospel of democracy, here are a few lessons culled from the short history of the Mastro commission. Let us hope future charter revision commissions avoid these tactics next time around:

  • Packing the Charter Revision Committee with political cronies of the mayor.
  • Scheduling public hearings and Charter Revision Committee deliberations in August during peak vacation time.
  • Quashing meaningful public debate by allowing only three minutes per person for citizen and expert testimony.
  • Throwing in attention-grabbing amendments (establishing gun-free school safety zones and requiring safety-locking devices) alongside more complex issues (creating an emergency fund with surplus monies or merging two city health departments) that beg for reasoned, prolonged public debate.
  • Using the charter revision process to push through an issue previously and appropriately considered by the City Council.
  • Marketing 14 unrelated amendments in seven areas (budget, civil rights, elections, government reorganization, immigrant affairs, procurement, and public safety) as one jumbo-size referendum for easier voter consumption.
 
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