If Binghamton City Council is the community’s legislative body, ever wonder how they’re performing?
After all, Binghamton is a strong-mayor form of government, which grants the mayor full executive and administrative authority over the day-to-day operations of the city. City Council, on the other hand, assumes the role of chief legislative body, expected to introduce and advocate for policy changes that respond to the needs of the residents and community at large.
Elected officials in the U.S. House and Senate introduce legislation daily. According to GovTrack, more than 10,000 legislative proposals have been introduced annually over the last ten years.
Here in New York, Assemblymembers and Senators issue media release after media release about new bills they are introducing. Few are signed and become law, but like their federal counterparts, these state legislators certainly embrace their role.
So, faced with a pandemic and public health crisis, an acute and worsening housing crisis, an opioid epidemic that still ravages, a nation reckoning with racism, systemic poverty and growing economic disparities, and the existential threat of climate change, how prolific have our chief legislators been in Binghamton? How are they performing?
By any objective measure, the Council is failing us.
According to the data, it’s not unfair to say that the Council over the last few years has truly operated more as a rubber stamp than a generator and advocate of policy ideas that address the pressing needs in our community.
And the close reader asks, “What data?”
The Binghamton City Clerk’s Office maintains a database of all legislation ever introduced or considered by City Council and the eventual outcome of each proposal. Under the NYS Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), I requested a copy of the database showing all activity from 2019 to current.
According to the database, there are 757 entries of proposed legislation from January 1, 2020 through July 2022, the current term of this Council.
The seven members of Council account for only nine (1.2%) of these 757 legislative proposals.
The other 748 proposals considerd by this Council were introduced by the mayor and his administration, and probably 95% of them or more were administrative bills and nothing to do with policy (for example, allow the city to submit or accept grants, change some money around in the budget, sell a vacant lot, enter into contracts with private firms to carry out capital projects, allow for fireworks shows, etc.).
Said another way: Binghamton taxpayers compensate the City Council more than $70,000 a year to serve as our chief policy and legislative body, but over two and a half years, the entire Council has only proposed nine pieces of legislation.
And if you examine this performance metric more closely, nine is being generous.
As the table illustrates, the nine legislative proposals include the following:
- The sole proposal by Giovanni Scaringzi was to address an administrative update defining the workday of the City Clerk and Deputy Clerk positions, which he likely did upon request by either the Mayor or the City’s Personnel Director – so it doesn’t really count.
- The sole proposal by Sophia Resciniti in 2021 was to make on-site cannabis use illegal in Binghamton, but apparently either the Mayor or her campaign advisers convinced her to hide her true colors and abandon a proposal that would be wildly unpopular.
- One of two proposals by Tom Scanlon was to push back on a nation (and our community) reckoning with systemic racism with his “Back the Blue” legislation. Tom’s other proposal was to increase the mayor’s salary, which he likely did upon request by the Mayor’s Office – so this second one doesn’t really count.
- Angela Riley has introduced two pieces of legislation, and Aviva Friedman has introduced three (winning the “Most Prolific Legislator of this Council” Award). These two Councilwomen introduced the most meaningful proposals by far this Council term – helping folks stay housed during the initial, terrifying wave of COVID. And it’s telling that both proposals were immediately killed by the majority GOP (Resciniti, Scanlon, Scaringzi, and Strawn).
- Phil Strawn and Joe Burn have yet to introduce a single piece of legislation.
Reviewing legislative activity shows us not just how engaged a member is, but what values are being championed. I see very little engagement, and while some values are on display by both parties, I see very little advocacy.
As an engaged resident with a couple dozen legislative/policy ideas that reflect either equitable, compassionate responses to the urgent needs in our community or my own values for ethical governance, I am saddened by the lack of advocacy among City Council Democrats and disheartened and appalled by the Republicans on Council who have happily embraced the role of rubber stamp.
I suppose one will argue, “But the Democrats don’t have a majority, and any bills they introduce will just keep getting blocked and killed. Why bother?”
Because that’s the role of a Council member: to champion and legislate the values voters entrusted you to represent.
Whether a proposal becomes law is not the only measure of success. What matters is to go on record advocating for values, to inform and shape our civic dialogue, to amplify the voices of those who are muffled and silenced, to steer our collective gaze to those struggling in the shadows, to affirm to those harmed by the status quo that we see them and they matter, to rally consensus and inspire hope–and through that advocacy, either score important policy wins OR expose those legislators who refuse to help our most vulnerable residents or who care little of justice or good governance by forcing them to go on record with their own hypocrisy.
For those considering a run for Binghamton City Council next year, regardless of the party affiliation, if you can’t commit to the above, please do us all a favor and stand down. This community is in dire need of policy champions.
In the name of transparency, the legislative database is available here for your review.