Rachel Holliday Smith and Allison Dikanovic, THE CITY
There’s a lot of energy around the mayor’s race, which is super important.
We also want to make sure you have the important information you need to participate in other crucial races that will be on the June 22 primary ballot. And some special elections are even sooner — Districts 11 and 15 in The Bronx, looking at you!
So, this week, we’re diving into City Council contests and revisiting some reporting that our team has done about how important these races will be for New Yorkers and our neighborhoods.
More than two-thirds of the City Council is up for grabs. That’s a lot — so we made a map.
Sara N., Andrea U. and Aubrey C. — all from Queens — and many other readers asked about how to find out who is running for City Council in different districts.
So we made a map where you can see who is running in your district, with links to their campaign websites and social media, so you can learn more.
If there is another bit of information you’d like to see on the map, let us know by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why are so many City Council seats up for grabs?
City Council members in New York City can only serve two consecutive four-year terms. In 2010, voters approved to put term limits in place so that Council members can’t run for a third term right away. They can take a break for a four-year term and then run again if they want. That means that a seat automatically opens up after the member serves two terms in a row.
Because of these term limits, 35 of the 51 City Council seats are open. And in some districts where the incumbent can run again, challengers have joined the race.
Right now, more than 300 candidates are running for City Council throughout the five boroughs.
To make things a little bit more complicated, these elections are only for two-year terms in the City Council because the city is on tap for redistricting.
So buckle up!
What’s so important about the Council races this year?
With so many seats open and so many candidates, voters have an opportunity to drastically alter the makeup of city government.
Not only are there a ton of candidates (more than 10 in a lot of districts), but the slate of hopefuls is diverse. In some of the districts with the most candidates, there are also higher numbers of newly registered voters. Those factors — new candidates running and new voters registering — means there’s potential to disrupt business as usual.
Monica Klein, a progressive political consultant, said: “We’re at a rare moment where the vast majority of Council members will be replaced all at once… And right now, the field of Council candidates is racially, economically and generationally diverse; there are more women running for office, people are running for office at a younger age, and there are more people of color, immigrants and children of immigrants, and socioeconomic diverse candidates in the field.”
As if more than 300 candidates weren’t enough, the Council races will be the first time New Yorkers will use a new method of voting called Ranked Choice Voting. Instead of choosing just one candidate, you’ll get to rank up to five in order of preference.
This means a voter may need to read up on a few more candidates than usual. We will talk more about Ranked Choice Voting in the coming weeks.
There are also voter engagement meetings set up across the city to help New Yorkers wade through this. We’ll keep you posted on those, too.
Lastly, like most races in a largely blue city like New York, the City Council members will for the most part be determined in the primary, which is early this year on June 22.
So, did you get that?
- More than 300 candidates!
- Ranked Choice Voting?
- Voting in June!?
Phew. Now you see why we started the Civic Newsroom.
Why should you care and what does a City Council member do?
City Council is kind of like Congress, but for the city. It may seem like a small office, but since New York has 8.4 million residents, a local office like the City Council has more influence than you may think.
Klein pointed out that some leaders — Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, to name two — have used the City Council as a stepping stone to higher office.
“City Council is an entry point into politics — and a way to build a bench for more diverse representation in higher offices years down the line,” she said. “One reason many people are disappointed in the mayoral field is because 15 years ago, the city wasn’t building an exciting and diverse bench of new political talent.”
City Council members represent a district that usually includes two to four neighborhoods, and they have four main responsibilities.
They pass laws
Just like Congress or the state Legislature, the City Council proposes and votes on legislation that makes the rules for all sorts of things ranging from public health, education, housing and transportation. You can see all the different City Council committees here.
After a bill is proposed, the Council holds a public hearing to get feedback from the community and potentially make changes. Then, members vote on the bill.
Bills passed by a majority of the Council go to the mayor to be signed into law. The Council can override a veto from the mayor with a vote of at least two-thirds of the members.
Example: The Council has passed laws authorizing things such as police reforms (just last month members proposed another set of reform bills), bike lane protections, the plastic bag ban, protecting tenants from harassment and the tax lien sale.
They help decide the budget
The Council negotiates with the mayor to pass the city budget every year. That means members help decide how your taxes and other revenue will be spent to fund different city agencies and programs — ranging from the public schools to policing to a bunch of social services. The most recent budget was more than $88 billion.
Your Council member can advocate for certain programs or projects to be funded in your neighborhood. And each Council member has their own discretionary budget to help local projects and groups.
They keep an eye on city agencies
Council members make sure agencies like the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Preservation, NYCHA and the NYPD are doing their jobs well.
Here’s a list of all the city agencies.
They have a say in how the city uses public land
That means where to build, what to preserve and what to close (like Rikers Island). The Council has a major say in real estate deals for city-owned land and votes on all zoning changes or rezoning.
And Council members vote to approve or reject development projects that need public approval.
How land is used can affect if housing is affordable, what kind of greenspace is available and how much pollution is likely to affect a neighborhood, among other things.
Example: The Council approved the Flushing rezoning plan in December.
They can advocate for you
Lastly, Council members can advocate on behalf of their constituents to advance certain causes, like joining the Hunts Point Produce Market workers strike.
Most candidates are hosting campaign events on Zoom or offering other ways to be in touch directly with potential constituents.
Klein said: “City Council candidates are extremely accessible in a way that candidates for higher offices aren’t. If you want to get involved in local government, meet with your council candidates, get to know them and ask them questions.”
Have you ever called your Council member? Do you know your Council member? Let us know if you have had any experience engaging with your Council member or their office and why. Email us at email@example.com.
A few tools for you
Want all this info in a fun video instead? BRIC made this video a while back explaining what City Council does.
How can I find out what Council district I live in? Look here.
How can I find out who’s running for City Council in my district and what they’re about Check out this map.
One more thing: Special elections. There are special elections for Bronx Districts 11 and 15 on March 23. Early voting starts on March 13.
Got some time? Here are a few campaign events this week
Lots of different local organizations are hosting virtual candidate forums. Here are a few:
- Tuesday, March 9, at 5:30 p.m. — Rank the Vote NYC Ranked Choice Voting and the Race for CD 15
- Wednesday, March 10, at 6:30 p.m. — APA Voice City Council District 1 Candidate Forum
- Thursday, March 11, at 2 p.m. — City and State New York’s Path to Ranked Choice Voting: Staten Island Forum
- Thursday, March 11, at 5:30 p.m. — Common Cause New York Ranked Choice Voting and the Race for CD 11
- Thursday, March 11, at 7 p.m. — NY1 Mayoral Forum on Housing and Homelessness
- Monday, March 15, at 7 p.m. — 92Y’s Race to City Hall with Dianne Morales
If you end up attending any of these events, let us know how they went and what you learned. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
…and don’t forget: Our first round of virtual Civic Newsroom meetings started last week and continue this week. We’d love for you to join us!
- Brownsville meeting: Wednesday, March 10, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sign up here.
- Flushing meeting: Saturday, March 13, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sign up here.
What are your election questions?
If you have any questions about the election process, the candidates or any other information when it comes to voting in New York, let us know by sending a note to email@example.com.
What we’re reading
- THE CITY reported on Central Harlem City Council incumbent Bill Perkins’ decision to run for office again despite health concerns and on Kathryn Garcia’s prospects in the mayoral race.
- City Limits broke down what Bronx voters should look for in the coming City Council special elections, explained how voters can participate in the petitioning process and reported on how mayoral candidates plan to address homelessness.
- Gothamist reported on Council candidates’ plans for Chinatown’s District 1.
- The Appeal looked at Manhattan DA candidates’ stances on sex work.
- The New York Times reported on how eight mayoral candidates plan to fix the economy.
- City and State is tracking mayoral candidate endorsements. Remember, last week we talked about why endorsements matter.
Thank you for reading!
Stay safe — and happy voting on June 22.
THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.