Cohen Gets Mayor’s Nod

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg has selected a former chair of Community Board 7 to sit on a panel that will evaluate major changes for municipal government.

Upper West Sider Hope Cohen, a 15-year veteran of Board 7, is one of 15 people appointed to the long-awaited Charter Revision Commission, the mayor’s office announced March 3.

Hope Cohen is a 15-year veteran of Community Board 7, and its former chair. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

The commission, chaired by CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, is tasked with examining changes that the 1989 commission instated. Before any recommendations become official, however, proposals must be approved by voters in the November election.

The 1989 commission, convened by Mayor Ed Koch, undertook the last overhaul of New York City government. The resulting changes expanded the City Council to 51 members, stripped borough presidents of nearly all their power and altered the office of council president to become the public advocate.

Bloomberg has so far called three charter review commissions—in 2002, 2003 and 2005—but few changes were made. In 2003, voters rejected a plan for nonpartisan elections for local office, an idea that was suggested by that year’s commission.

With little change emanating from those commissions, Cohen wants a thorough review of the charter.

“The beauty of a charter commission is that it’s given a mandate to look at the whole thing and I think it’s time to do that,” she said. “Everything is on the table. We are expected to do a top-to-bottom review.”

Term limits, first enacted by a ballot initiative in 1993, is expected to be a major part of the commission. In order to run for a third term, Bloomberg proposed a controversial bill to extend the number of terms city elected officials can serve from two to three. The Council approved the plan.

Cohen would not discuss her opinion on term limits, but she said her focus will be on infrastructure planning in the land use review process and mandating greater use of technology in the charter.

Now associate director of the Regional Plan Association’s Center for Urban Innovation, Cohen has spent most of her career in the public sector, including the Parks Department and NYC Transit.

“At NYC Transit, I was particularly interested in technology and my experience with how city government actually works,” she said. “Things like rules around procurement. Real nitty-gritty stuff.”

Public meetings in the five boroughs will help shape the commission’s agenda. And Council Member Gale Brewer will also have a role in the process as chair of the Government Operations Committee, which oversees the commission. She said she already has concerns about ensuring an extensive public outreach period.

“[The commission] wants to do some referendums and recommendations by November. It’s a very short time period,” she said.

To increase public participation, she wants meetings webcast and to have people comment by calling or writing in to a meeting.

“All that should exist—very, very extensive social networking technology and town halls,” Brewer said.

Brewer has also complained that recent commissions have done little to update city government. She wants this year’s commission to “think outside the box,” like the 1989 committee. Among the areas in need of examination, according to Brewer, are the role of the City Council and mayor.

“Obviously, as a Council member, I’d like the mayor in charge but see some more power for the City Council,” Brewer said. “We do need some more checks and balances.”

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