What does a City Council Member do, anyway?
And yes, some of the candidates seem to be fuzzy on this as well…
Earlier in March, The City had a great breakdown of what City Council members do, and why you should care about their election. Here is part of The City’s email on the issue:
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 people living here, 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 fund local projects and groups.
Example: The Council has a huge say in how the city funds its police force, and it cut funding for affordable housing programs in the last budget.
They keep an eye on city agencies
The Council makes sure agencies like the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Preservation, NYCHA and the NYPD are doing their jobs well.
Example: The Council can monitor what the DOE is doing about school segregation and provide a check on how NYCHA manages and maintains its buildings.
Here’s a list of all the city agencies.
They have a say in how the city uses public land
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.
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.”
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.
Example: The Council approved the Flushing rezoning plan.
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 ways to be in touch directly with constituents.