We witnessed a surge in voter turnout in the recent national election. It’s now time to focus the same energy on upcoming local elections.
We anticipate a special election this coming March to replace our councilman who was elected to be a judge. This is an off-cycle election that will not receive the same attention as a primary or general election.
I am one of several individuals who have announced their intent to run for this office. It is essential for our community to follow this race and engage with the candidates.
The selection of our council member, and the choices that individual makes, has a greater impact on our daily lives than most national elections. Local leaders have significant influence to support or reject change on issues that affect municipal services such as education, parks, public safety, sanitation and transportation.
We are at a critical time in New York City. The decisions made in the next two years will determine the time it takes to recover from the effects of the pandemic. It is crucial that you understand the experience and values of the person you select to represent our district.
So I ask you to take a closer look at the job of a council member, and the field of candidates applying for the position.
What do council members do actually? There are 51 council members in New York City, and they are the legislative body for New York City.
Council members have four main functions:
• Introduce and vote on legislation of local laws
• Monitor city agencies
• Negotiate and approve the city budget
• Review land use proposals and plan for the development of our city.
With each, the member advocates for their district.
In addition, a council member must run a well-managed office to help constituents with problems they encounter with city agencies and municipal services. This is often referred to as constituent services. It requires knowledge of city agencies and good working relationships with those agencies. It is part of the job that places a council member on call 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
How do you learn about candidates for this job? In recent years, access to information has become easier thanks to the internet and social media. We can research candidates and engage in the election process from our homes and on our phones. A few small steps you can take are to view the content on a candidate’s website, attend a Zoom meeting in which you can ask questions, or reach out to a candidate by email or phone.
However, while there are new forms of media to learn about candidates, there remain old tricks, empty promises and surface soundbites. A well-produced Instagram video and an impassioned speech can make it difficult to distinguish substance and experience from bluster and flash. Dig deeper.
To aid in the process of selecting the right candidate for the job, I’ll throw down a challenge to you and the other candidates in this race. Contact a group, association, building or organization which you belong in our district. Ask that group to host a Zoom meeting. Invite the candidates. Pick a few topics of interest to your members. And question the candidates.
I will do the same. I will host a bi-weekly forum for all candidates in our district beginning in January. I will invite each candidate to a Zoom meeting and ask each campaign to provide the link to the public. I will invite media outlets, community organizations and community leaders to moderate.
This approach will give you, the voters, a chance to get answers on issues of importance to you.
When a candidate screams that we need affordable housing, you can ask them what “affordable” means. When a candidate says we need better education, ask them what actions they will take to make it better. When candidates say they will increase funds in a particular area, ask where that money is coming from, and what’s the trade-off.
Pete Buttigieg said, “In local government, it’s very clear to your customers — to your citizens — whether or not you’re delivering. Either that pothole gets filled in, or it doesn’t. The results are very much on display, and that creates a very healthy pressure to innovate.”
I will put my results on display in these forums, and for any individual who asks.
March is quickly approaching. Please engage, and don’t forget to vote.
The author is a city council candidate.