http://highrisesafetynyc.org/ August 7, 2014
Once again, the City has said “No” to tens of thousands of voters.
But this time, we will prevail.
On July 3, 2014, we submitted over 67,000 petition signatures calling for a ballot measure that would require the City of New York to investigate the collapse of WTC 7 and any future high-rise collapses. Most unfortunately, but also as we anticipated and prepared for, the City has attempted to block the High-Rise Safety Initiative from appearing on the ballot this November.
On Monday, we received the City Clerk’s certificate, which claims first that the petition has only 27,892 valid signatures, 2,108 less than the 30,000 threshold; and second that the proposed charter amendment is legally invalid for three reasons, which are discussed below.
Yesterday, we filed suit against the City to have its determination annulled, and to compel the City Clerk to certify that the petition contains enough valid signatures and complies with all the requirements of law. Earlier today, New York State Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead signed our “order to show cause,” thus requiring the City to appear in court for an initial hearing on Thursday, August 14, and formally commencing the case.
While the court ultimately found in favor of the City in the case of our 2009 ballot initiative, we are confident of overcoming the City’s challenge to the High-Rise Safety Initiative. Our level of confidence going into the campaign has not changed upon reviewing the City Clerk’s certificate and stated reasons for blocking the petition. There remains a significant chance that the voters will be able to vote on the High-Rise Safety Initiative come September 4th. We expect the case to be decided by early to mid September.
How You Can Help
Now we need to raise $30,000 to fund our litigation costs, and we need at least a 25-person army of volunteers to help with reviewing the signatures.
Fortunately, a generous donor has pledged a matching grant of $15,000 to help us raise the $30,000 we need. Therefore, we are asking you to help us raise the other $15,000 and make sure we take full advantage of the matching grant. Aside from $5,000 to $10,000 more that may be needed for an appeal, this is the final expense for which we will need to raise funds until we are on the ballot. Please donate as generously as you can by going to HighRiseSafetyNYC.org/donate.
To volunteer, or if you have questions about volunteering, please contact us through our Contact page at HighRiseSafetyNYC.org/contact. If you live in or around New York City and you have any free time during weekdays, we need your help. As our volunteers from 2009 will tell you, it was a fun and gratifying experience, so please join us!
Towards 30,000 Valid Signatures
As we know from our past experience and from the advice of our attorneys, the City’s tendency in these cases is to wrongly challenge thousands of signatures. This is because some of the City’s criteria for invalidating signatures are unlawful. Most importantly, the City wrongly invalidates any signature where the voter’s stated address does not match the voter’s address in the voter database – when the true legal test is whether the voter’s signature matches the original signature kept in the voter database. This is admitted to in the City Clerk’s certificate where it says, “Other reasons include, but are not limited to, the failure of signers to insert…their address of record…”. Voters are not required by law to insert their address of record for the signature to be valid.
Therefore, our first step will be to have the judge order the City to conduct a new review of the signatures with legally valid criteria, or annul the City’s determination if the City is unable or unwilling to conduct a new review. If that does not happen, we will have to conduct our own review. During our 2009 ballot initiative, the City challenged 25,000 signatures, and, with the tremendous help of 30 volunteers, we were able to identify 7,000 wrongly challenged signatures and force the City to concede that we had enough signatures. We expect a similar number of wrongly invalidated signatures this time around.
The Legality of the Proposed Charter Amendment
The City has also challenged the legality of the proposed charter amendment on three separate grounds. You can read the City Clerk’s certificate for more information on their reasoning.
1. The Financing Plan. The City claims that the proposed .9% surcharge on construction permits is a tax and not a fee, and thus invalid because it would require approval from Albany. We will argue that the surcharge is indeed a fee, which the City has the authority to enact without State approval. The proposed surcharge is similar to many fees the City already charges. According to our lawyer, Leo Glickman, “By labeling this surcharge a tax, the City is calling into question the legality of hundreds of fees it already charges, and making it much more difficult to enact fees in the future. It’s astounding that the City is willing to act so strongly against its own self-interest to keep the voters from weighing in on this matter.”
2. Adequate notice as to the effect of the charter amendment. The City claims the petition does not give adequate notice to voters about the effect of the charter amendment. We will argue that it obviously does, and additionally we may argue that our canvassers very clearly communicated the effect of the charter amendment, as does our website and other campaign materials.
3. Whether the charter amendment is advisory, or mandates a fundamental governmental function. The City claims that because the charter amendment applies in part to a building collapse that occurred on September 11, 2001, which according to the City, falls under federal jurisdiction, it is advisory in nature – in other words, it expresses an opinion rather than mandating a fundamental governmental function. Under Municipal Home Rule Law, the law that provides for this type of ballot initiative, advisory ballot initiatives are not allowed. We will argue that the charter amendment indeed mandates a fundamental governmental function related to a matter falling squarely under local jurisdiction, and it is not intended to express an opinion.
Further Information: Go to http://highrisesafetynyc.org/ for
City Clerk’s Certificate
Order to Show Cause
We understand that you may have further questions about the legal proceedings. We welcome your questions, though we may not be able to respond in a timely manner. We have done our best to outline the City’s challenge, how we plan to defeat their challenge, and the procedure going forward. We encourage you to continue reading our email updates and visit the website regularly for more information.
We thank you for your support and commitment to this vitally important cause.