By: Daniel Ohiri
It’s election day! All across the country, people will be voting for governors, attorneys general, state house, and city council. Thousands will also be voting for several municipal propositions. I want to focus on one of these referendums in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Proposition No. 2 says,
“Shall the City of Albuquerque adopt the following amendments to update the language of the Open and Ethical Elections Code, which provides for public financing of City candidates: Vied eligible city residents with Democracy Dollars, to contribute to their choice of qualified candidates , which the candidates could redeem with the city clerk, up to a limit, for funds to spend in support of their campaigns, as directed by the City Council, and increased funds for publicly financed mayoral define family candidates?”
This simply worded proposition actually radically alters the way we finance elections. Following a 5-4 ruling from the Supreme Court, municipalities nationwide had to redo their public financing system. Paraphrasing Justice Kagan’s dissent, this ruling significantly weakens election authorities’ ability to combat the hold special interests have in our political system. No city is safe from high dollar donors corrupting their politics. In Albuquerque, Demos found that, “A small pool of donors contributing at least $1,000 each provided the majority of campaign funds in the last city election”. In a city, where the per capita income is $28,229, we are currently crippling, in a major way, the average citizen’s ability to participate in politics.
The rising cost of city council elections is damaging to our democratic process. Take for example this year’s election in Albuquerque City Council District 8. In this district one of the candidates has opted to pursue private financing while the other has chosen to be publicly financed. Trudy Jones, who is privately financed and the incumbent, raised $31,305 (mostly from the real estate industry) during Reporting Period 7 (09/03/ 2019 – 10/11/2019). During the same reporting period her opponent, Maureen Skowran, raised $0.00. The race in District 8 demonstrates the advantages that affluent incumbents have in financing their campaigns. In elections across the country we are seeing more and more that big money is unfortunately essential to a modern campaign, and without it challengers face an uphill battle to even get on the ballot, let alone mount a successful campaign. The reliance on big donor financing is damaging because it limits the entryway into public service to the affluent or affluent adjacent. Therefore, it limits the socioeconomic diversity of thought and people in the halls of power and decision making. It also affects access to policymakers, there is evidence that suggests that politicians will listen more keenly and respond to the policy proposals put forth by high dollar donors instead of low dollar constituent contributors.
Albuquerque voters have a choice in filling the public financing hole created by the Supreme Court. They have a choice in following in the steps of Seattle, WA, when they created a similar program. They also have a choice to continue the status quo. Ultimately, the choice is theirs.
By: Sean Ruddy
This past month, the D.C. city council took landmark action when it unanimously passed an updated Framework of the city’s comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan is a far-reaching document that guides the decision-making of the city's zoning commission for the next 20 years, having great influence on the landscape of the city. One of the main improvements to the comprehensive plan included encouraging the Zoning Commission to approve the development of planned unit developments (PUDs), which are a type of multi-purpose development that are exempted from some zoning restrictions if they provide a public good. One of the main changes to PUD developments is that they are no longer forbidden if the development would have “incompatibility” with a neighborhood but only when there are “unacceptable project impacts in the surrounding area.” This change will ensure that new crucially needed affordable housing developments are not blocked because of frivolous subjective reasons, such as distributing the “character” of a neighborhood, while still ensuring that current residents are not harmed.
The new comprehensive plan also requires that some PUDs and developments using city funds must help provide more equitable housing within DC. These changes to PUDs are expected to improve the amount of affordable housing units throughout the District. These necessary changes come at a crucial time, with a new report finding that DC is displacing lower-income residents at the highest rate in the country. These new housing developments will help stop this displacement and move the city towards the estimated 320,000 new units that have to be built by 2030 to keep up the job growth within the city. The plan gives priority to PUDs with a “build first” approach, which prevents residents from being displaced by allowing them to stay in their homes until new facilities are built. The amendments also establish a “right to return” clause that will make sure residents are able to return to their homes following housing redevelopment projects.
Other new improvements to the comprehensive plan coming from the amendments include a focus on development density instead of height, emphasizes on renewable energy sources in construction, and encouraging the development of multimodal public transportation to connect all residents to the bustling sectors of the city.
The Roosevelt Network praises the new amendments and appreciates the D.C. council’s commitment to preventing the displacement of its citizens. We hope to work with the council and other important stakeholders to monitor implementation and make certain that these changes help the city’s most vulnerable residents.
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