When moving to a foreign city, understanding how the political system works can be a complicated affair. Even if you are not able to vote in the city’s elections, it is best to be informed on who’s in charge and how policy changes take place. As a resident, these will certainly affect you!
New York City has a number of officials who are elected by the city’s residents to control the budget, review legislation, and introduce initiatives that can make the city a better place to live and to do business in. Once elected, these officials also appoint other officials to oversee committees and agencies built to make the city a better place to be.
But who’s really in charge? Who makes sure nothing gets out of line? Here’s a look at who’s running NYC and how the citizens can get involved.
Elected High-Ranking Roles in New York City
|Office Held||Current Representative|
|Mayor||Bill de Blasio|
|Public Advocate||Letitia James|
|City Comptroller||Scott M. Stringer|
|Speaker of the City Council||Melissa Mark-Viverito|
The Mayor – The CEO of New York
The key person who represents New Yorkers – and often acts as the face of the city – is the city’s mayor. The mayor is elected every four years, and can run for a maximum of three terms. The mayor joining the office in 2014, Bill de Blasio, is currently serving his first term.
The mayor is the most important person voted into office by New Yorkers as he or she is responsible for appointing various positions in the city’s government, proposing the city’s budget, vetoing (or rejecting) bills proposed by the city council, and is responsible for the effectiveness and integrity of the city’s government. You can think of the mayor as the CEO of New York City.
The Public Advocate – Representing New Yorker’s Rights
The second in command in New York City is the public advocate; if the mayor were to leave office for any reason, the public advocate would be the person to fill the mayor’s shoes. The public advocate is also elected in four-year increments and acts as the ombudsman for the people of the city to the government. He or she is responsible for investigating citizens’ complaints about city services and making proposals to address any issues found. The public advocate is also expected to participate in New York City Council discussions (though does not have voting power), holds hearings on matters related to his or her jurisdiction, and sits on several of the city’s committees and boards, including the City Audit Committee and the Commission of Public Information and Communication.
The City Comptroller – The CFO of New York
The city comptroller is the city’s fiscal leader – think of the comptroller as the city’s CFO. Also elected every four years, the comptroller audits a number of agencies, reports on the city’s financial health, manages the city debt, and offers advice on the operations, fiscal policies and financial transactions that occur in the city. The comptroller also serves on a number of the city’s boards, including the City Audit Committee and the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
Other Elected Roles
Each borough also elects a borough president. During these four-year terms the presidents appoint members to community boards and promote the long-term welfare of the boroughs. The presidents also advise the mayor on matters within their borough and can introduce legislation to the city council, starting the legislative process.
The heads of the law in the city are the district attorneys. The district attorneys (or DAs) are elected in each county and are responsible for criminal investigations and criminal prosecution in their respective county. DAs are elected every four years by the citizens of New York.
|Cyrus R. Vance Jr.||Manhattan||New York County|
|Richard A Brown||Queens||Queens County|
|Kenneth P. Thompson||Brooklyn||Kings County|
|Daniel M. Donovan Jr.||Staten Island||Richmond County|
|Robert Johnson||Bronx||Bronx County|
The New York City Council acts as the legislative branch of New York City. The council’s 51 members are representatives from each of the city’s council districts and are the big lawmakers in the city. They are elected for two or four-year terms. The speaker of the city council sets the agenda and presides at meetings. The council has the power to propose, evaluate and adopt new local laws, investigate and discuss matters related to the city’s property, affairs and government, and must approve the city budget.
The members make up a number of committees focused on discussing topics across all government matters, including public housing, higher education, parks, and land use. The city offers a complete list of the City Council Committees – there is one for every matter you can think of in the city.
Appointed (non-elected) Officials
When New Yorkers vote for the officials who will hold the city’s higher offices, they must take into account that the people who win these positions will be appointing others to the city government.
The mayor is responsible to choose the individual most qualified to lead many of the city’s boards, agencies and committees. It is critical that the mayor select qualified people; these are the leaders who can introduce new ideas and promote discussion among these organizations, guiding them towards the right decision.
Other appointed officials include the city’s 59 community boards. Each community board is made up of 50 unpaid volunteers and is lead by a hired district manager. The community board is responsible for discussing zoning issues, land use in their respective neighborhood and coordinating the city’s services for the benefit of their community.
Checks and Balances
Between the elected officials, the councils, agencies and committees on particular topics, and the branches of the local and state governments in place to ensure no law is passed into legislation that violates rights, it is pretty hard for legislation or regulations to get passed through everyone’s hands if it is not for the best interest of the city.
Even though non-U.S.-citizens aren’t eligible to vote, there are still many ways in which internationals can affect change in their neighborhood and borough.
Join a civic group or community board to discuss neighborhood issues and ways to solve them, to volunteer in your area, and more. NYC.gov has a section on community affairs which lists the many ways you can get involved and the NYC Civic Database lets you find civic and community groups in your area based on zip code or region.
Article updated December 2014