Gotbaum Urges Halt to Charter Revision Drive

Gotbaum Urges Halt to Charter Revision Drive
Jennifer Steinhauer

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and a group of elected officials, labor leaders and government watchdogs called on Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg yesterday to stop his attempt to revise the City Charter this year. Mr. Bloomberg has appointed a commission to study, and, he hopes, to propose eliminating partisan municipal elections and changing mayoral succession.

Perhaps coincidentally, a draft report on the succession issue, prepared by members of the mayor’s law office, was given to reporters just before Ms. Gotbaum issued her statement in a news conference on the steps of City Hall. The report presents various succession possibilities for the commission to consider before submitting a proposal to voters in November.

Yesterday, Ms. Gotbaum and others cited timing, the Voting Rights Act and the hot weather as reasons that charter revision should not be undertaken this year, and they vowed to fight the effort.

”You cannot make fundamental changes in our democracy in 44 days,” said Ms. Gotbaum, adding, ”If he does put these changes on the ballot, we will fight and we will win.”

Mr. Bloomberg, a Republican, has repeatedly said that he believes several weeks is plenty of time to study the idea of nonpartisan elections, which he says will open the political process to more participants.

He also seeks to speed up the process of succession if a mayor should die or become incapacitated, and says he wants the first deputy mayor to fill that role until a new mayor is elected. The Charter now designates the public advocate as the successor, and Ms. Gotbaum fiercely opposes the change, saying that only an elected official should succeed the mayor.

Ms. Gotbaum and others suggested yesterday that nonpartisan elections favor wealthy candidates because they remove the support of traditional parties, and said the change would undermine minority voters who have risen to power through the Democratic Party.

”I’m very much concerned about the impact on voting rights,” said Assemblyman Clarence Norman Jr., the Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman. ”We recognize that if we have nonpartisan elections, it will indeed dilute the ability of people of color to ascend to the city’s highest offices.”

These and other sentiments of discord were sounded by Fernando Ferrer, who ran for mayor last year; William C. Thompson Jr., the city comptroller; C. Virginia Fields, Manhattan borough president; Randi Weingarten, the president of the teacher’s union, and several council members.

Among their concerns was that most of the hearings on charter revision would be held in August, when many people are on vacation and the heat is searing. They appeared to underscore their point about the heat by wandering off to escape the sun after making their remarks at the news conference.

Mr. Bloomberg’s viewpoint is not without supporters, however. Today, a group calling itself the People’s Coalition for Nonpartisan Municipal Elections Party will hold a news conference on the steps of City Hall to announce its plan to campaign for nonpartisan elections. The group is led by Lenora Fulani, a former leader of the New Alliance Party.

The draft report on succession examines various possibilities, including the provision for the public advocate to succeed the mayor. The report says the public advocate lacks ”sufficient executive knowledge of the city’s operations to ensure stability in the city.”

The report also considers succession by the deputy mayor, the comptroller, the council speaker and the holder of a newly created position of vice mayor.

Some of Ms. Gotbaum’s aides have suggested privately that they believe the commission may seek to eliminate her office entirely. The report does not mention that, but it does say the office performs ”virtually no executive functions.”

Continue reading the main story

Read the original article here