Democracy for NYC (DFNYC) is committed to the ideals espoused by Democracy for America, the organization founded by Howard Dean, and the national network of local coalition groups dedicated to the same.
We work both locally and nationally to ensure that fiscally responsible and socially progressive candidates are elected at all levels of government. We develop innovative ways to advocate for the issues that matter to our members and support legislation which has a positive effect in our communities. We promote transparency and ethical practices in government. We engage people in the political process and give them the tools to organize, communicate, mobilize, and enact change on the local, state, and national level.
You can download our bylaws here.
Moreland Commission Hearing on Fair Elections – Monday, Oct. 28, 2013
Notes of Max Smith Jr, Democracy for NYC (DFNYC.org)
The Co-Executive Directors and Deputy Enforcement Council of the New York State Board of Elections (“BOE”) testified before the Moreland Commission on Monday, Oct. 28th at the JavitzCenter.
This was quite an interesting hearing, to put it mildly. For the first three hours, members of the commission basically eviscerated 3 executives from the State Board of Elections - two Co-Executive Directors, Robert Brehm and Todd Valentine, along with Deputy Enforcement Council William McCann. Their answers were typically evasive and bordered on absurd, often drawing audience laughter.
The Commission went through example after example of negligence, incompetence and the extremely partisan culture of a supposedly bipartisan agency.
Some incidents were stunning, ranging from voter-fraud issues to clandestine authorizations that were hand-written on official legislative stock. Other examples included having two separate teams for Democrats and Republicans that essentially don't communicate (yet they claim to have a "collegial" atmosphere), not filling a number of hires they were authorized to fill and constant complaining of being understaffed, complaining of not having the proper resources despite having one investigator on staff who was quoted as “playing solitaire and reading bible verses all day” b/c they would not give him work and also had the authority and budget to hire another one as well, nor utilizing state law enforcement which would not cost additional moneys.
Then list goes on and on, but probably most troubling was:
(1) They have only opened 5 cases since 2008, 4 of which were in 2008 (keep in mind that some of these take as long as 2 years for them to answer, and the average is 302 days),
(2) They have never hired a special investigator nor issued a subpoena for documents,
(3) The fact that due to "backlog", which was their go-to excuse for all their negligence and neglect, they only kept open cases of "greater vintage" and closed all others even though:
(4) they do not prioritize their cases; cases simply get reviewed as they come in (kind of contrary, no?),
(5) They do not handle anonymous complaints, even those regarding elections in progress, their excuse being that anonymous complaints may be fueled by partisan politics. This could mean they receive an email with out an address (in which they can simply email the person back) or an address w/o a sender (White Pages? Internet anyone??!!), even though the complaint could be tremendously detailed and easy to investigate.
(6) When asked if they considered the BOE to be a law enforcement agency, the reply was that they considered BOE first and foremost to be a compliance agency, even though the panel pointed out that the law MAKES them an enforcement agency!
The State BOE directors were also pressed about the treatment of LLCs, which they have the power to address and they have not, of course. The final questions posed to them were first whether they agreed that BOE has been unable to enforce its duties. Brehm, the Democratic ED agreed, saying they've been unable to get to be an investigative body, and could be much more effective. Valentine, the Republican ED, said he did not disagree with Brehm's analysis. McCann, the Deputy Enforcement Council, said yes, very begrudgingly. Hope, perhaps? They were all then asked if they are proud of the work they do on the BOE. They all said yes, McCann indignantly. Sounds about right.
Amy Loprest of NYC Campaign Finance Board testifies:
The next session was with Amy Loprest, the Executive Director of the NYC Campaign Finance Board, towards whom the Commission was predictably nicer. One thing of note: when asked if they would recommend an elimination of the spending limit, particularly with super PACs, Amy said the review of past expenditures for this cycle was just beginning, so there are no recommendations yet on individual spending.
James Spallone, Connecticut Deputy Secretary of State testifies:
Up next, the Connecticut Deputy Secretary of State James Spallone testified. Connecticutwas one of the first states to enact a public campaign finance system, and touted the difference it would make for a bigger state likeNew York: "[A]n economy where everybody has an equal chance, a democracy where everybody has an equal say... [we] cannot eliminate all forms of corruption, their system eliminates incentive." They did not have advanced data regarding the increase of small donors though. They mentioned that the state enforcement division used to audit everyone's reports, but because it became too much, it is now random, though they assured it is still a good percentage. With regard to support of the new changes that came out in June, they are not for the watering down of the public financing system. When asked about limiting independent expenditures, they suggested increasing the match would help.
Brad Lander & Carlos Menchaca testify:
Finally, NYC Council Member Brad Lander and our friend and candidate Carlos Menchaca testified. Carlos started by mentioning the reason they were testifying is to make it illegal for groups like REBNY to buy elections. They get large tax breaks and gave $7 million in total this election cycle, including a large sum to his opponent. As a result, his opponent had a large hate mail campaign that was xenophobic and racist. He summed it up by saying a shady PAC shouldn't get to buy our election. Here here!
Brad Lander mentioned public financing was essential in his campaign and Carlos said there was "no way" he would have won his primary without it. Brad then spoke at length about independent expenditures. In 2009 when he first ran there were almost none, in 2013 they are multitudinous. There is an outsize effect relative to dollar amount. They are also constricted to 24 districts. IEs are more than twice as much as the expenditure gap, and next election they could be 15 - 20 times more than state expenditures, which is frightening. He called for 3 things:
(1) He is introducing legislation to identify IEs, calling on communication disclosure to let people know where the money comes from (this lets voters judge what is in front of them). He will do this on the city council level, and hope to enact on the state level as well,
(2) close the LLC loophole (NYC does, we should do it on the state level as well)
(3) restrict candidate dealings through state and local systems.
My favorite moment came at the beginning when asked about whether there were two separate entities for Dems and Republicans and whether there were separate meetings, those in the audience stood up and covered their mouths with dollar bills. Kathleen Rice, the Nassau County DA opened the hearing by calling the state campaign finance a "broken system" contributing to New York City's problems. She could not be more correct...
For the general election coming up on November 5th, 2013, there will be ballot questions. The one that is getting the most press is on the casino proposal.
Here are some links, please check back soon for more:
NY Times article, Thomas Kaplan, 9/30/13
Other Ballot Questions:
The high cost for the Oct. 1st, 2013 run-off election in NYC has renewed the discussion around Instant Run-off Voting. We'll be discussing this issue at Linkup at 7pm on Oct. 2nd at Peculier Pub near NYU (click here). Here's a few links:
High-Cost Runoff for Public Advocate’s Post Prompts Calls for Reform
Kate Taylor in the NY Times, 9/29/13
NYS-IRV - Citizens for Instant Run-off Voting in New York State
Wikipedia page - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant-runoff_voting
A Proposal for New York: Instant Runoff Voting
Letter to the Editor of the NY Times From Dick Dadey, Exec. Dir of Citizens Union
City Council Elections Bill Would Move NYC To Instant Runoff Voting
Ellen Durkin in the Daily News, 6/12/13
Opinion: Instant-runoff voting – right reasons, wrong reform, April 4, 2011
A Split Vote on Alternative Electoral Systems
Carl Bialik in the WSJ, May 13, 2011
At our Linkup (formerly called meetups) on September 4th, 2013, we discussed latest N.Y.P.D. controversy - labeling entire mosques as "terrorist enterprises" - in order to do surveillance of imams and members, even with no evidence of wrong doing.
In late August, the AP obtained documents showing that the NYPD has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorism enterprises, which allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on leaders: "Designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance." Read the whole AP article here.
Jerome called the NYPD's tactic of labeling entire mosques as terrorist enterprises a "slap in the face" and said it is not just a question of religion being targeted, its a question of privacy. Many people, when they are trying to get their life together, go to talk to a clergy member and confide in them; surveillance at place of worship is a violation of this privacy.
Scott Stringer and Eliot Spitzer, the Democratic candidates for Comptroller, have answered our candidate questionnaire, and voting is open from now until Monday Aug. 19th at midnight for the DFNYC Comptroller Endorsement. Click here for the ballot.
Check below for their answers: We'll post them as soon as we receive them!
Democratic primary: Tues. Sept. 10th. (Winner will most likely be the next Comptroller.)
Forum Tuesday Aug. 13th: Democracy for NYC co-hosted a forum with Living Liberally & Act Now NY. Pictures and video are linked from the front page of our website, click Home, above left.
DFNYC Endorsement Vote: Click here for rules and ballot.
Democracy for NYC's 2013 Candidate Questionnaire - Comptroller
(Candidates' Answers will be listed in alphabetical order.)
1. Shareholder Power. One of the most significant powers of the NYC Comptroller is management of NYC’s five pension funds, valued at approximately $140 billion, which are invested in stocks and other assets. Would you seek to use this power as an activist shareholder, for the purpose of making corporations and Wall Street more responsible and ethical? How would you seek to accomplish this? Each pension fund has its own Board of Trustees with decision making authority. Please include in your answer your experience in working with Boards or other groups to change or improve policies.
Part of protecting those pensions is realizing that as pensioners, the workers of New York City own the companies in which the pension funds invest. As owners, New York City workers are entitled to responsive governance. If I am fortunate enough to be elected comptroller, I’ll use our ownership power to ensure that the companies in which we invest behave responsibly.
NYC has long been a leader in shareholder activism. As a trustee of the NYCERS pension fund for 7.5 years I supported hundreds of shareholder resolutions targeting excessive executive pay, corporate political spending, companies that discriminate against LGBT individuals, the lack of diversity on the nation’s corporate boards and other important issues to make corporations more accountable and responsible. In consultation with fellow trustees, I proposed that NYCERS (1) adopt a comprehensive environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) policy for all of our investments; incorporate ESG and governance questions in RFPs to asset managers; and adopt a comprehensive divestment policy that ensures divestments are based on economic considerations consistent with fiduciary duty. I work closely with key corporate governance organizations such as Ceres, Principles for Responsible Investment and Council of Institutional Investors.As Comptroller, I will continue the initiatives I have led, build upon my history of working collaboratively with other trustees and enhance the staff for corporate governance to engage more companies toward corporate accountability and sustainable capitalism. I will also appoint a Chief Diversity Officer to increase women and people of color on corporate boards and in senior management, which has been shown to boost financial performance.
2. Qualifications. The role of Comptroller will require expertise in financial strategy and investing, knowledge of markets, as well as experience in effective management and cooperation with others, including shareholder groups, Boards, and government agencies to effect positive change. Please briefly give your qualifications for the position of Comptroller.
As AG, I brought numerous cases against the Wall Street financial institutions, using new and creative means to expose and prosecute malfeasance. You can’t do that without a deep understanding of the banks and capital markets. Moreover, we turned the office into one of the best law firms in New York, with over 600 lawyers. It’s this track record that qualifies me to be New York City’s Comptroller. I know what it is to take an agency and leverage its formerly unused powers to protect New Yorkers, regardless of their background.
The Comptroller must be an effective leader in government who can bring people together, serve with integrity and independence and work constructively with stakeholders on lasting solutions. I have demonstrated these abilities in my years of public service by building coalitions to achieve progressive reform and have the experience, skills and vision to take the Comptroller’s Office to the next level.
I have served as a trustee for the NYCERS $44 billion pension fund for 7.5 years. I’ve led efforts to boost NYCERS’ commitment to emerging / MWBE managers, sustainable investing, corporate governance and trustee education, and was among the first to call for a ban of placement agents in NYCERS investments. I have served as a member of the Franchise and Concession Review Committee (FCRC) for 7.5 years where I led initiatives to ensure transparency and public input on contracts and greater public benefit from public-private partnerships. I issued 50 detailed reports to root out waste and recommend progressive reforms in City agencies, similar to audits. I launched Bank On Manhattan, a public/private partnership that has helped 12,000 New Yorkers open low-cost, safe checking accounts and increased community financial education.
3. City Contracts - Accountability. Would you seek to actively use the power of the Comptroller's office, as currect Comptroller John Liu has done, to review city contracts (including those entered into before his tenure), to ensure they remain within budget constraints, at the most competitive pricing, and that vendors are paying their fair share of taxes to the city?
Reviewing City contracts has always been a function of the comptroller's office. Though it has been difficult for comptrollers thus far to get the courts to uphold contract rejections, except in cases of fraud, I will vigorously review all contracts to ensure that terms of service and payments are appropriate and that vendors are in compliance both with the terms of the contract and with the law.
I will utilize the full force of the Comptroller’s Office to eliminate waste and inefficiency in City government, including calling out agencies on excessive contracts. As Borough President, I issued a report proposing reform of wasteful tax subsidies from the Industrial and Commercial Incentive Program to fast food and retail chains.
4. Relationship with State & Other Comptrollers. As City Comptroller, how would you view your relationship with the New York State Comptroller, and the officials that control pension funds in other States? Do you feel these relationships could be used advantageously for common goals, such as curbing irresponsible risk taking on Wall Street or supporting sensible budget policies for properly funding pensions (as opposed to simply redoing the math to assume the market will go up)?
When any group of people bands together with a common purpose, it can be a powerful force. As AG, I worked with Attorneys General around the country to protect our constituents against fraud and malfeasance by banks and large corporations. As for the current state comptroller, I think he’s done a fine job. We’ve had our differences, but that’s to be expected with two opinionated people. I have every confidence that we will work well together.
The Comptroller must be able to work in coalition with Comptrollers, public pensions and institutional investors across the country to (1) strengthen corporate governance activism, (2) create joint leverage to negotiate lower fees, and (3) collaborate on state and federal legislation that will save money for municipal budgets.
Many pension funds—from New Jersey to California—are actively cutting fees. We need to work with them to coordinate effective strategies and form coalitions to increase leverage to cut fees. As Comptroller, I will continue to work with other pension funds to strengthen the impact of corporate governance work. NYC pensions own no more than .5% of any one company and, by necessity, must cooperate with other pension funds to have real impact. I have been an active participant in the Council of Institutional Investors, which Comptroller Goldin helped found, and worked with other pension funds nationally to improve corporate governance strategies.
As Borough President, I issued a report on the local impact of the “Fiscal Cliff” and sequestration, which has been devastating for many of our most vulnerable citizens. By working with other Comptrollers, NYC can be a leading voice in Washington for the health of cities nationwide.
5. We can’t believe we have to ask this. In light of some of the past scandals with pension funds in New York State, do you agree not to accept personal favors and gifts from people or corporations that are likely to be seeking favorable treatment from the Comptroller’s Office?
Eliot Spitzer: Of course, and I will make sure that my staff also complies with the ban.
Scott Stringer: Yes. In addition, I will strengthen Conflicts of Interest training to ensure all trustees, veteran and new, fully understand and comply with their ethical obligations.
6. NYC Council Member Items – Slush Fund. Do you think the powers of the City Comptroller should be used to change or improve the use of City Council member items, including the “slush fund” as described in a NY Times OpEd, to make it more fairly distributed, properly used, and less dependent on the discretion of whomever holds the position of Speaker?
Eliot Spitzer: I support reforming the system of member item disbursement to one based solely on community need. There’s no excuse for city council members using taxpayer dollars to benefit their families and political allies at the expense of New Yorkers in need. I will use the power of the comptroller’s office to ensure that city council member items are subject to appropriate scrutiny and awarded only to legitimate groups and projects.
As Borough President, I issued a groundbreaking report in 2011 on the City’s member items, which showcased how certain Councilmembers received far more funds than others and that allocations were not in line with the varying needs of our communities. Since then, it has only become clearer that the system is fraught with corruption and in need of an overhaul.
The $50 million of member items should be put to work on behalf of working class New Yorkers, not used by Council members as a personal piggybank to maintain their political support.
7. Protecting Tenants - Divesting in "Predatory Equity". Former Comptroller Bill Thompson
stopped the city's pension funds from investing in "predatory equity"; specifically private companies that would buy buildings with rent-regulated apartments at inflated prices, with the goal of trying to evict rent-regulated tenants who have lived in these apartments for several years, most of whom cannot afford market rate rents. Do you agree with this ban on investing city pension funds on firms that seek to undermine affordable housing laws? (City Limits article - March 3rd, 2008)
Yes, I support the ban on investing city pension funds in firms that seek to undermine affordable housing laws. This is exactly how the powers of the office should be used to protect New Yorkers.
In addition to calling out companies that have a history of pushing out rent-regulated tenants, I proposed to rescue 110,000 units at risk of foreclosure by offering loans and grants to non-profit developers and others to renovate buildings and sell them on the open market, provided the units are permanently affordable.
As Comptroller, I’d leverage the City’s cash deposits to spur banks to provide additional lending to small businesses and assist New Yorkers struggling with foreclosure.Our pension dollars should go toward building affordable housing—as they have through Economically Targeted Investments—not to companies that exacerbate our housing crisis.
8. Cable & Internet Companies - Options & Customer Service. There are many areas of NYC that still lack quality options for cable television and internet service. In addition, many customers have had
horrible service experiences, for example waiting at home during a 4-hour "window" for a cable technician who never shows up, only to be told that the appointment can't be rescheduled for a week, and the customer will receive nothing more for this trouble and lack of service than a small bill credit. The Comptroller's office has significant regulatory authority over telecom companies, including auditing and approvals of upgrades and expansions to existing systems. Would you use this power to ensure that broadband companies expand service to all areas of NYC and actually provide better customer service, (not just transparency about their service) and face real penalties when they fail to do so?
Yes, I will use my position on the NYC Franchise Concession and Review Committee to ensure that broadband companies expand service to all areas and provide better customer service, and face real penalties if they fail to do so.
In many parts of the City, we rely on 19th century copper wiring for 21st century needs. It’s holding our economy back and it must change. My recent Start-up City report called for the exploration of a municipal fiber network. In addition, as BP, I serve on the Franchise and Concession Review Committee and worked to secure a commitment from Verizon to build its fiber-optic network to every home by 2014. To date, their progress has been unacceptably slow.As Comptroller, I’ll use my full vote on the FCRC to boost investment in this “fourth utility” of the modern age.
9. Your Ideas. Are there other ways you would seek to use the Comptroller's office to help push and support a progressive political agenda in the city?
The comptroller’s office is responsible for protecting the City’s pension funds to ensure that those who have paid into the pensions get the benefits they have contracted for and deserve. Part of protecting those pensions is realizing that as pensioners, the workers of New York City own the companies in which the pension funds invest. As owners, New York City workers are entitled to responsive governance. As Comptroller, I’ll use our ownership power to ensure that the companies in which we invest behave responsibly. Second, the comptroller’s office watches how the City spends taxpayer dollars. Whether it’s public schools, the MTA, or NYCHA, the comptroller’s job is to make sure that money is spent effectively and efficiently. And that’s why I’m running for Comptroller – not to count the money, but to make the money count.
I’m running for Comptroller because more and more, the rich and well-connected are living by one set of rules in this City while the rest of us live by another. In the coming days, I will publish a 70+ page “book” of policy proposals detailing how every facet of the comptroller’s office can be used as a source for progressive policy.
Some of my ideas include:
Conducting performance audits to make sure taxpayer money is being spent efficiently on programs that really work.
Cutting the $400 million in annual fees we’re paying money managers, and making sure our pension dollars go where they are supposed to—retirement security.
Growing our economy by investing in small businesses and public school classrooms. This includes working with SBS and community groups to bring workshops on the minority and women-owned business enterprise program beyond the SBS office in Lower Manhattan to neighborhoods in all five boroughs.
Using our audit bureau to identify trends in claims and settlements and working with the Law Department to build out a data-driven approach to reducing these costs, just as HHC has successfully done over the past decade.
Increasing transparency and accountability in the process of setting prevailing wages (including making all data used in the process, as well as the formula available online) and vigorously enforcing prevailing wage and living wage laws.
Utilize the powers of the office to evaluate and ensure the City serves immigrant communities and protects immigrant rights in areas such as legal services to prevent deportation, small business services, language access and immigrant workers rights.
Bully Pulpit Questions: Issues where the Comptroller has a voice but not a vote:
10. Home Rule for NYC. One of the biggest obstacles to enacting policy for New York City is that we do not have "Home Rule"; so many issues that affect New York City are actually decided by Albany, leaving NYC in the precarious position of begging Albany for action. Examples include rent-stabilization laws that protect tenants, congestion pricing, taxation, and even some parking policies. Will you advocate for stronger home rule for NYC? Both Democratic candidates have served in state government. Please tell us what, if anything, you did during your time of service in favor of Home Rule for New York City.
I will advocate for stronger home rule for the City, especially on issues affecting housing and transportation.
I have repeatedly testified before the Rent Guidelines Board on New York City’s lack of control over its affordable housing stock. I support the right of towns upstate to use their zoning codes to ban hydro-fracking as well as the Council’s effort to install a prevailing wage for projects benefitting from taxpayer dollars.Ultimately, I believe that while the State retains legislative authority in many areas, cities are “laboratories of democracy” that should have the flexibility to pass laws that are more protective than analogous state law and experiment with novel pilot programs designed to address their unique needs.
11. Getting Big Money Out of Politics. Large donors have a huge amount of influence in local and national politics due to their campaign contributions. While NYC’s matching funds program is seen as one of the most innovative public funding campaigns in the country, many DFNYC members feel that big money donors still have too much influence, candidates still spend too much time fundraising, and the matching funds come to the campaigns too late to make a real difference in how we run elections. Would you support a change to full public financing of campaigns, similar to the Clean Money Clean Elections programs in Arizona, Connecticut and Maine? Do you feel that Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that strengthened corporate personhood and struck down many campaign finance laws, was wrongly decided?
There is no question that large financial interests have had a corrupting influence on politics. While I believe that Citizens United was properly decided on First Amendment grounds (a position shared by the ACLU), I understand that many progressives disagree on the Constitutional grounds of this decision.
However, Citizens United is the law of the land and unlikely to change. We can make real progress on campaign finance reform by creating a level playing field when it comes to candidate contributions. That is why I have supported - and will continue to support - public financing for campaigns.
Citizens United’s interpretation of the First Amendment is wrong and dangerous. The flood of corporate and special interest money in our elections—especially without disclosure—threatens to undermine the public’s trust in government.I support the matching program and low contribution limits in NYC and consider our system a model.
In January I wrote an op-ed in the Times Union on this very topic. In it I pushed for a federal transactions tax of which 1/3 would go to the states. I argued that New York State should use this money to fund education aid. A tax of less than half a percent on every $100 of stock sales or sales of other financial instruments including bonds, derivatives and options could easily generate $250 billion to $300 billion in annual revenue. And it would tax HFT. We need creative solutions that can solve for myriad issues. I think this is one such solution.
From the flash crash to revelations about Thompson Reuters selling information to HFTs before releasing it to the public, it is clear Wall Street is not playing by one set of rules. That type of insider dealing hurts confidence in the markets and is bad for our pension fund.We need a robust discussion about implementing a financial transaction tax on the federal level, provided the tax is low enough to ensure continued liquidity, as one of many steps to reduce volatility and encourage average Americans – many of whom still feel burned from 2008-09 -- to reinvest in the market.