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From Now to November – by Carey R. Dunne

When we and our co-sponsors announced that we would host a forum for the New York City Mayoral candidates here at the City Bar on June 6th, the response was a great measure of our members’ engagement. The interest in the event was so overwhelming that it ‘sold out’ almost immediately. Similarly, when we released the City Bar’s 95-page “Policy Recommendations for New York City’s Next Mayor,” the report was downloaded nearly 2,000 times on the first day. That level of involvement by our members in these substantive issues is not surprising, given that this is the first mayoral campaign without an incumbent since the days following the September 11th attacks.

You can watch a video of the forum here and read the New York Law Journal’s article on it here. But I hope you will also take the time to read our report. It was designed to be accessible to a wide audience, and written by lawyers who are dedicated citizens and, above all, New Yorkers.

What’s notable about the report, which reflects the work of some two dozen City Bar committees, is the depth and breadth of the topics covered. At the risk of leaving out your favorite issue—again, I urge everyone to read the full report—what follows is just a sample of the topics covered.

The section on education offers specific suggestions to improve school closure policies, reform the teacher disciplinary hearing process, reduce bullying and harassment in schools, and reduce teen dating violence. Several recommendations cite programs already in place and suggest that greater success would result from better communication. For example, better data reporting, outreach and education would be helpful in implementing the Dignity of All Students Act, as they would help engage parents, a core constituent group currently left out of the implementation process.

Several of the City Bar’s recommendations underscore the importance of New York’s policies in setting an example for the nation and even the world. Climate change is one such area, with the report providing ways for the incoming Mayor to encourage and incentivize City residents and commuters to reduce their carbon footprint. The report also asks the Mayor to support energy efficiency and renewable energy, accelerate the work of the Green Codes Task Force, and affirm his or her commitment to long-term PlaNYC goals. A focus on environmental justice would help mitigate Superstorm Sandy’s disproportionate impacts on disadvantaged communities, while taking steps to enforce mandatory evacuations and implement “reverse 911 calls” would help prevent casualties in the next storm.

Another area in which the report advocates a continued leadership role for New York City is gun control. “Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership role in this area should not be for naught. He has created an opportunity that we can ill-afford to squander,” the report states in outlining specific recommendations.

The report also urges the next Mayor not to await court decisions to address the hot topic of Stop and Frisk. Rather, he or she should take steps to improve police training and measure performance qualitatively, not quantitatively, to better assure these stops are made in compliance with the law. Related steps the new Mayor should champion include changing the law regarding marijuana possession, a pilot project to video-record Stop and Frisk activity, independent monitoring of the NYPD, and the tracking of lawsuits against the NYPD to help identify problem officers.

Calling New York City the “great equalizer” of public transportation, the report recommends that the new Mayor consider an alternative to the “Taxi of Tomorrow” that is accessible to the handicapped. Citing speeding as the cause of more vehicular homicides than drunk and cell-phone-using drivers combined, the report proposes an enhanced speed cameras program. And the report urges the new Mayor to rein in the tens of thousands of counterfeit parking placards that make finding a parking spot so hard for everyone else.

Increasing access to justice by funding legal services for the City’s poorest residents actually benefits the entire City’s economy, the report argues, by saving funds for shelter and other services and by equipping families to contribute to the City’s economy. Supporting the Paid Sick Time Act would also protect the social welfare and equal participation of all New Yorkers, as would expanded consumer protections in troubled sectors including used car dealers, debt collectors and debt relief companies.

As you can see, not unlike New York City itself, this report has something for everyone. We hope it will inform the public dialogue as the campaign continues between now and November. The ever-increasing number of candidates’ forums—there have been over 40 already by some counts—has become something of a running joke on the campaign trail. “Errol, I’m starting to be really concerned I’m spending more time with you than I am with my wife these days at these forums,” Democratic candidate William Thompson told moderator Errol Louis at our forum.

On the other hand, it would take a good deal many more forums to cover all the issues in the City Bar’s recommendations alone, let alone the issues of concern to other groups and individuals, and having the candidates delve deeper into a wider variety of policy issues would be time well spent on behalf of all of us in New York City.

Carey R. Dunne is President of the New York City Bar Association.

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