You, yes you, can — and should — weigh in on the New York City Charter

The charter is better than the dumb ol’ Constitution because it’s got that New York flavor, but Eric Adams is messing with it.

You, yes you, can — and should — weigh in on the New York City Charter
Hey man put that down, you're going to get branzino all over it. (Photo illustration by Tim Donnelly)

We’re smack in the middle of a heat wave signaling the official start of summer in New York, and a few months ago you probably thought that meant a time for you to take a little time off from doing things like “thinking.” Congestion pricing was surely happening, there were only a handful of competitive primary elections in the city for you to worry about and no one was trying to amend the New York City Charter.

Well now you have to keep making phone calls in order to keep the governor from decimating the MTA’s financial future and New York City’s air quality, and the mayor is hastily attempting to change the City Charter. Let's explain what that means and why it's important:

I know the congestion pricing thing, I read The New York Groove. What’s the City Charter?
The charter is essentially the city’s Constitution. But it’s better than the dumb ol’ Constitution because it’s got that New York flavor.

How does it get amended?
The mayor or the City Council can put together a Charter Revision Commission at their pleasure. The commission is then tasked with hearing from you, the people, and coming up with ballot referendums that will go before voters and could change how the city is run. 

Previous CRCs have been responsible for remaking the entire structure of city government into what we have today, the introduction of ranked choice voting, term limits for community board members and reinstituting two-term limits after Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council gave themselves a chance to serve for three terms.

On the other hand, voters heartily rejected a charter change from Mayor Giuliani’s 1999 CRC that tried to put limits on city spending and required supermajorities for the City Council to pass tax increases.

Commissions are supposed to come in and independently assess the entire charter and then independently come up with ideas on how to fix it, though mayoral CRCs usually have some initial guidance from the mayor on what to focus on.

How can I weigh in on how it should be amended?
Meetings where you can weigh in have been ongoing, and four meetings are left in June starting tonight in Brooklyn at 5 p.m. There are also three CRC meetings in July. You can attend in-person or over Zoom. If you don’t feel like sitting through a meeting, you can email your testimony to by 5 p.m. on July 12.

Who’s trying to amend it?
Mayor Adams, who’s tasked a panel with figuring out how to change the Charter to gut the City Council’s ability to govern tweak the process around how bills dealing with public safety and “fiscal responsibility” are handled. Per the press release announcing the CRC, the 13-member panel is supposed to:

“focus on how the charter can contribute to public safety and provide opportunities for greater community input and transparency when legislation is proposed that would impact public safety. Additionally…to focus on how the charter can better promote fiscal responsibility and support working-class New Yorkers….[E]valuate processes for determining the financial impact of proposed legislation on current and future fiscal years, whether the financial impact is funded, and making that information more transparent to the public.”

Well we all like fiscal responsibility and public safety!
Two bills, both passed over mayoral vetoes, tell the story of the flowery language above. And a third bill that’s going to get vetoed is also part of the whole story.

One is an expansion of the City Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement, a city voucher that pays 70 percent of a tenant’s rent if they cover 30 percent of it. Last July, the City Council expanded the program to include higher incomes and people at risk of eviction, which the Adams administration hasn’t followed through on, citing onerous future financial obligations from covering more renters.

The second is the How Many Stops Act, which expanded the type of stops NYPD officers had file reports about. Adams called the law an attempt to drown police officers in red tape, but his efforts at killing the bill, including vetoing the bill and showing up to a bar mitzvah to ask guests to tell Council’s Jewish Caucus to vote against the bill somehow didn’t work, and the Council easily overrode his veto.

And finally, the Council recently passed a law to create a referendum that would ask voters whether the Council should be able to vote on many more mayoral appointees. Your mileage may vary when it comes to trusting the City Council to vote on mayoral appointees, but that’s also a problem for a future you, because the Charter Revision Commission can bump the ballot question off of this year’s ballot.

Adams has insisted that something as obvious as a feud with the City Council is not the reason for the CRC. Instead, he says supporters of his agenda asked him to find a way to change up city government after the How Many Stops Act passed, to ensure that there’s a public hearing before any bill that could affect “public safety,” even though the City Council bill on police stops played out extremely publicly and had a long hearing before it passed. 

Oh that’s why you crossed out the thing about gutting the Council’s ability to govern.

So who’s on the Charter Revision Commission?
Allies of the mayor and people who are lobbying the city government, which is pretty common for this sort of thing. But in an Eric Adams twist, the CRC is hiring no outside staff, which could ensure the commission gives the mayor exactly what he wants instead of their own unhampered ideas. And in a particularly Eric Adams twist, one member of the 13-member commission might be violating the residency requirements to serve on the CRC because he lives in New Jersey.

What is the Commission going to do?
Well no one knows exactly, because technically it’s an independent entity. CRC Chairman Carlo Scissura says the Commission won’t get rid of ranked choice voting, but beyond that, it’s unclear what will happen, which is why you can and should suggest some ideas. Various good government and fiscal nerds have weighed in already:

Reinvent Albany has asked the commission to do as little harm as possible by moving citywide elections to even years, but otherwise leaving most of the city’s electoral infrastructure in place. The Citizens Budget Commission has a host of ideas, including capping how much debt the city can take out relative to how much tax revenue it brings in, requiring earlier analysis of the fiscal impacts of proposed laws and possibly limiting how those laws are instituted, and doing more regular citywide surveys of residents.

The city’s Independent Budget Office also supports expanding the role of fiscal impact statements on laws, and wants to change the way the city budget is published so that the “average New Yorker” has an easier time reading it. Reading the whole city budget right now is, in fact, like reading the Old Testament when it's been translated into Greek from Aramaic. That is to say, it is difficult to understand without intense training.

But you can also testify with your own ideas, or suggest that say, the City Council be allowed to have oversight over the police. Or if you and your friends get together and think you have a good idea to streamline or improve city government, you can all bring your ideas to the commissioners at one of the meetings.

We want to create an independent Duchy of Historically Accurate South Brooklyn.
Sorry, secession issues are handled in the state Legislature, and they are currently on vacation until January.

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Fine, but when can we testify at this again?
You can email your testimony to the commission at by 5 p.m. on July 12. Or you can testify at the handful of upcoming meetings in June and July, which will take place at:

Charter Revision Commission Hearing – Bronx
July 11, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Fordham University, 441 East Fordham Rd., the Bronx

Charter Revision Commission Hearing – Staten Island
July 9, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Staten Island University Hospital North, 475 Seaview Ave., Staten Island

Charter Revision Commission Hearing – Manhattan
July 8, 5 pm – 8 p.m.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Blvd.

Charter Revision Commission Hearing - Brooklyn
June 27, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Medgar Evers College, 1650 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn

Charter Revision Commission Hearing - Queens
June 26, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.

NYC Department of Design and Construction, 30-30 Thomson Ave. , Queens

Charter Revision Commission Hearing - Staten Island
June 24, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Curtis High School, 105 Hamilton Ave., Staten Island

Charter Revision Commission Public Safety Forum & Hearing - Brooklyn
June 20, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.

FDNY Headquarters, 9 MetroTech Center, Brooklyn