New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Wall Street Journal NYC Initiatives Seek to Curb Campaign Contributions and Board Term Limits by Katie Honon

NYC Initiatives Seek to Curb Campaign Contributions and Board Term Limits

On Election Day, voters in New York City will be able to vote on three proposed changes to the city’s charter, provisions that Mayor Bill de Blasio says will strengthen local democracy.

Just remember to flip over your ballot, where voters can check yes or no to the three initiatives.

Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, is urging New Yorkers to vote “yes” on the three provisions, which call for changes to campaign-finance contributions, the creation of a civic-engagement commission and term limits for community-board members in New York.

The initiatives were decided by the Charter Revision Commission, which the mayor appointed earlier this year with the goal of amending campaign-finance rules and boosting civic engagement. Public hearings were held on these topics throughout the summer.

The first proposal would slash the maximum amount of a contribution a candidate running for a city office could accept. For citywide office races, it would go from $5,100 to $2,000 for candidates participating in the city’s matching funds program. For New York City Council candidates, the maximum would drop from $2,850 to $1,000.

If the proposal passes, the city will also give $8 to a candidate for every dollar raised until the campaign reaches a certain threshold. The matching funds will be accessible to candidates much earlier in their campaigns than under the current rules.

The second initiative seeks to create a commission to encourage civic engagement across the city.

And the final question relates to the 59 community boards across New York City. The boards are mostly advisory, but have some say over land-use issues in their neighborhoods.

The proposal would limit board members to four two-year terms. Currently, there are no term limits on community boards, although members can be removed for a number of reasons.

The ballot measure also requires borough presidents and council members who appoint these board members to look for more diverse candidates and make it easier to apply.

“I think there’s something healthy about the notion that all public servants have an opportunity to turn over the reigns once in a while,” Mr. de Blasio said this week at a rally for the ballot provisions.

Not every elected official is on board with the proposals.

Comptroller Scott Stringer favors the campaign-finance proposal, but opposes the other two, particularly the community board one.

“While well-intentioned, they will reinforce the deck that is already stacked against communities by failing to create real opportunities for community planning and removing experienced voices from community boards,” he said.

Four of the five borough presidents in New York City have also expressed concern, sending a letter in August to the commission’s chair, saying the ballot proposals were rushed and had little public discussion.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Democrat who represents neighborhoods in Manhattan and is a former community board chair, said he opposes term limits on community board members.

“I think there’s already a check in place and these people are volunteers, a lot of them are real community activists and have a pulse on the community,” he said at a press conference this week.

But others see an opportunity for reform at every level if the provisions pass.

City Councilman Ben Kallos, a Democrat who represents the Upper East Side of Manhattan, has pushed for campaign-finance reform since he ran for office in 2013.

“I really think that the system has too much big money into it,” he said. He hopes the changes will increase participation, particularly with first-time candidates.

“It is not humanly possible for someone to run for mayor on small dollars,” he said. “And with this change, it is.”

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