Independent Neighborhood Democrats Discuss Charter Revisions


The Independent Neighborhood Democrats (IND) convened last night to discuss the three new proposed initiatives generated by the Mayor’s Charter Revision Commission.

This November, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to vote on three new proposed changes to the New York City Charter – one dealing with campaign finance, one related to civic engagement and one related to community boards. John Jurenko and Torrey Fishman of the New York City Charter Revision Commission appeared at the IND’s meeting last night to explain the proposed changes and answer questions about them.

They said that they were not appearing in any official capacity, and instead were attending the meeting of their own accord to dispense information in a non-partisan way.

“Between now and [the election], we want to make sure that all voters are informed about the ballot questions and know their location on the ballot,” said Torrey Fishman.

John Jurenko and Torrey Fishman from the Mayor’s Charter Revision Commission. Photo by William Engel

The first proposal would lower the maximum amount of money that a political candidate could accept from one contributor. It would also make public matching funds available earlier for candidates who can aptly demonstrate the need for said funds.

“The one goal the mayor had with this proposal was to take money out of politics,” said John Jurenko. “What they’re seeking to do is take the ability of big donors out of the equation and encourage more people to seek out small donors.”

The second proposal would establish the Civic Engagement Commission, a new department of the mayor’s office created to gauge and encourage civic participation in New York. The proposal would also provide for the creation of a citywide participatory budgeting program.

“Vast swarths of New Yorkers are not engaged,” said Jurenko. “The Civic Engagement Commission would be charged with identifying ways to get New Yorkers more civically engaged, working with community-based organizations.”

The third proposal would impose a limit of four consecutive two-year terms on the City’s community board members, and require borough presidents to appoint people from diverse backgrounds to community boards.

“This was something that was not on anybody’s mind when the Commission started their public hearings back in April,” said Jurenko. “It came up, first and foremost, during our public hearing in Queens… people said they wanted term limits because they’d been applying over and over again to their community boards [unsuccessfully].”

Jo Anne Simon
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon

Later in the evening, Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon (D-Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Downtown Brooklyn) took the floor to share her opinion on the three proposals. She expressed support for the first proposal, calling it a “very good” idea, with her only concern being that it doesn’t establish exactly how much earlier it would make public matching funds available.

She was less enthusiastic about the second proposal. Though she approved of the plan for citywide participatory budgeting, she didn’t think the establishment of a new commission would be an optimal way to promote civic engagement.

“The biggest problem with the charter is that it’s very executive-centric,” said Simon, pointing out that more than half of the Commission would be appointed by the mayor himself. “We know from history that administrations are not terribly in touch with the people – and I’ve been involved with community activities under more than one mayor, so this is not about Mayor De Blasio. It’s about nearly every mayor.”

On the subject of the third proposal, Simon said that the imposition of term limits on community boards would promote greater turnover, but consequently preclude more experienced members from staying on the board.

“The work of a community board is something you learn by doing,” said Simon. “You need people with institutional memory, and you need people who understand and remember what happened during the meetings eight years ago… and you only get that by doing it, and by learning from your colleagues who have been there at the community board for longer periods of time.”

New Yorkers will be able to vote on all three of these proposals during the election on Nov. 6. For more information, visit