A coalition of City Council members and Democratic Council nominees likely to win on November 5 took to the steps of City Hall on October 30 to begin making their case for sweeping reforms to the Council’s rules.
Two months before they take office — and a week before they are even officially elected — gay Democratic nominees like Corey Johnson of Chelsea, Brooklyn’s Carlos Menchaca, and Ritchie Torres of the Bronx joined their future colleagues, led by Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander, to present a proposal that would “take the politics out of member Items” by allocating discretionary funding for Council districts on a “fair and objective basis.”
The reforms laid out also aim to ensure fairer consideration of legislation proposed from members outside the leadership; to give committee chairs greater control over hearings and staffing; to dedicate a greater share of Council resources to providing public services; and to establish a formal procedure by which members of the Council can file a grievance with the Rules Committee if they believe the rules are not being followed.
“This is a great City Council getting better,” said Lander. “While the Council has held the Bloomberg administration accountable and been a strong voice for everyday New Yorkers, we can do more. By strengthening members’ offices and making our processes more transparent, the City Council will make itself more accessible and responsive to our constituents.”
Lander added that a total of 30 members and candidates headed for victory next week have already signed on to the proposal. The City Council has 51 members.
Councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn, who has also surfaced as one of the leaders of the reform push, went out of his way to say that the plan is meant to change rules and practices and is “not connected to any one speaker.”
But the specific goals of the proposal, especially regarding the allocation of discretionary funding, are clear reactions to the kind of quid pro quo atmosphere that many say existed under the eight-year tenure of Speaker Christine Quinn. During her unsuccessful run for mayor, her ironclad control of the Council was a persistent undercurrent in the public narrative, even if much of it was based on sources unwilling to speak on the record.
Representatives of several good government advocacy groups also joined the Council members at the press conference to promote the plan.
“The centralization of power within the speaker’s office has been an impediment to the exercise of good government and equitable allocation of resources for all New Yorkers,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of the New York branch of Common Cause.
Williams stressed that the proposed reforms will “make the City Council more accessible and accountable to the people that put us in office in the first place.”