President’s Letter: October 2019

October 31, 2019

“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they can do this is by not voting.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

I love this quote but it does take on a more ominous air than it might have even a decade ago, given the recent assaults on voting rights across the country. From Citizens United in 2010 to the most recent decision in June to effectively uphold the right to gerrymander political districts, your average voter has been demoted. To boot, these decisions have been matched or greatly exceeded by states.

That is all the more reason why we New Yorkers must vote during this election, despite a ballot that is hardly designed to scintillate. Not only is voting this year an act of defiance against nationwide trends but it is also an act of reinforcement. Have I lost you? Let me explain.

line of people waiting outside school to vote
People lining up to vote outside the Elias Howe Elementary School in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Jim Henderson. Modifications: photo cropped.

For the first time, New York State is providing opportunities for early voting. This should not be a radical new move. However, it is. You don’t need an absentee ballot, you can just show up at a polling place and vote on any of the early voting days. Starting last weekend and continuing through Sunday, November 3, more than 60 polling places around the city are open for voting. (You can find yours by visiting Vote NYC.) So I urge you to not only vote but vote early, just because you can! (It is sort of like being there to urge the last Marathon runner across the finish line. New York State may have been lagging behind but it is good that it is getting there at all!) And all polling locations will be open on Election Day, November 5, from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM, for anyone who hasn’t had a chance to vote yet.

There are a number of ballot items worth paying attention to, including the citywide election of the Public Advocate and a handful of district races. And there are five ballot questions that let New Yorkers decide on a series of proposed changes to the City Charter: Rank choice voting; modifications to Citizen Complaint Commission; modification to the period of time an elected or appointed official must refrain from lobbying the City; the creation of a rainy day fund; and, last but not least, a modification to land use procedures. These five proposals are the ones that emerged from the City Council’s Charter Revision process over the last year.

We will leave you to your own deliberations on the other four charter amendments but want to urge you to VOTE YES on Ballot Question #5. This proposal is a small fix to the challenges of ULURP but definitely an improvement. Ultimately this is all about fairness, giving the community more time to understand rezoning proposals.

The New York Times erroneously represented this ballot question as one that will slow down the execution of affordable housing projects. We think that couldn’t be further from the truth. The opportunity for Borough Presidents and Community Boards to engage in real discussions with the City and developers before everything is set in stone is likely to build trust, insuring that projects have greater consensus as they move through the process.

Ultimately, you will make up your own mind about #5 and each of the other decisions before you. However, I hope that despite the very off-off election year, you will go exercise the voting muscle you have. We owe it to each other and our city!

Elizabeth's signature

Elizabeth Goldstein
The Municipal Art Society of New York

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