Many New Yorkers have been energized into taking a more active role in politics in the past couple of years, but often, the simplest and most effective way for everyday citizens to have a say in their democratic government is to contact their elected officials.
And we’re not talking just on a national level. Though making calls to U.S. senators is important and useful, New Yorkers can also effect change in their state and city by keeping an eye on representatives closer to home—and voting when they’re up for re-election. The 2018 midterm election proved to be a pivotal one not only on a national level, but locally as well.
And now that the results are in, now’s a good time for an update on who’s representing the interests of Gothamites in the nation, state, and city—plus quick and easy ways to get in touch with them.
What he does: As the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer is the most powerful Democrat in Congress. He's also a member of several Senate committees, including the Judiciary; Finance; Rules and Administration; and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs committees. As the leader of the Democrats, Schumer’s opinion carries plenty of weight in Congress, so New York constituents are in a unique position to make their voices heard on minority federal policy.
Major issues: Schumer, a centrist Democrat, finds himself needing to become more stridently liberal to appeal to the party’s increasingly vocal activist base. Though Schumer has been an outspoken opponent of the Trump administration’s policies, he drew fire from liberals for voting yes on five of the 45th president's controversial cabinet nominees. The Brooklyn-born Schumer is focused on fostering and elevating the middle class.
What she does: Kirsten Gillibrand filled Hillary Clinton's place in the Senate when she took office in 2009, and since joining the Senate, she has taken an increasingly liberal stance. She serves on the Senate committees for the Environment and Public Works, Armed Services, Agriculture, and Aging.
Major issues: Gillibrand voted against all but two of Trump's cabinet appointees so far, establishing herself as a surprising firebrand since the 45th president took office. She’s a strong advocate for boosting small businesses, advancing women's rights in the workplace, and curbing sexual assault on college campuses. Gillibrand has been a supporter of the #MeToo movement and in 2017, she was the first Democratic senator to publicly call for the resignation of fellow Democratic Senator, Al Franken, amid sexual misconduct allegations.
What they do: Whereas members of the Senate represent the interests of their states as a whole, members of the House of Representatives act on behalf of constituents in their districts when it comes to bills, resolutions, and other national issues in Congress. If you have a specific issue you want brought to federal attention, your rep is the one to contact.
For example, Carolyn Maloney of Manhattan's 12th Congressional District helped secure federal funding for the long-awaited Second Avenue Subway, and Manhattan's Jerry Nadler and Brooklyn's Nydia Velazquez were vocal opponents of Trump's travel ban.
There are 27 congressional districts in New York State, with 12 in the five boroughs. Of those reps, all 12 are Democrats, after Staten Island Republican Dan Donovan was defeated in the midterm election by Democrat Max Rose.
Where to find them: To look up your rep, visit Find Your Representative.
New York State Governor: Andrew Cuomo
What he does: Queens native Andrew Cuomo has held the highest executive office in the state since 2011, holding the power to enforce state laws and sign or veto bills passed by the state legislature. In his first year in office, Cuomo signed the Marriage Equality Act into law, passing same-sex marriage legislation two years before the Supreme Court struck down DOMA.
Major issues: In addition to same-sex marriage, Cuomo has been an outspoken advocate for gun control, paid family leave, education aid, and a $15 minimum wage. In his January State of the State addresses, he outlined an agenda that includes making public college free for middle-class students, beefing up state infrastructure, and modernizing the voting process.
New York State Senators
What they do: The New York State Senate is the upper of the two legislative bodies that deal with state laws and bills (the other is the New York State Assembly). In largely blue New York, the recent midterm elections marks the first time that Democrats have had control of the 63-member Senate in nearly a decade. Unlike members of the national Senate, state senators are elected by district, with different numbers of senators per district based on population.
Where to find them: To look up your state senator, visit Find My Senator.
New York State Assembly Members
What they do: The lower house of the state legislative body is also firmly in the hands of the Democrats: The party holds a majority of seats in the 150-member Assembly. The speaker of the Assembly, Democrat Carl Heastie, hails from Assembly District 83 in the Bronx.
Similar to how the national legislature functions, bills move through the Assembly before going on to the Senate. The Assembly is also divided into districts, but districts that differ from those used by the state Senate. Among its notable pieces of legislation is the New York State Liberty Act, which essentially extended immigrant-protecting sanctuary city policies to the entire state.
Where to find them: To look up your state Assembly member, visit the Assembly’s website.
New York City Mayor: Bill de Blasio
What he does: As chief executive of New York City, Bill de Blasio is responsible for dictating city policy, appointing and overseeing city departments, and, y'know, all that stuff with plowing. He's been in office since 2014.
Major issues: De Blasio ran on a "Tale of Two Cities" platform with a pledge to heal income inequality in the five boroughs, though critics say he hasn’t done enough to keep that promise. He's a big supporter of universal pre-kindergarten and improving public transit, and he spearheaded the creation of the IDNYC program, which provides government ID to city residents regardless of immigration status.
Public Advocate for the City of New York: Letitia James
What she does: The second-highest-ranking elected office in NYC acts as a watchdog on the activities of city agencies and the voice of New Yorkers in local government. The public advocate is also a member of the New York City Council who can introduce and sponsor legislation, but not vote on it. Letitia James was voted into the position in 2014, after serving as a member of the City Council representing Brooklyn's 35th District for nine years. James will complete her current term before assuming the role of New York state attorney general beginning in January 2019. There will be a special election held to determine who will be the city’s next public advocate.
Major issues: James has been a voice for criminal justice reform, argues for more rigorous corruption investigation of the NYPD, and oversees a "Worst Landlords" list to protect tenants' rights. She's also in favor of free lunches in schools and is a supporter of disabled rights.
New York City Comptroller: Scott Stringer
What he does: Essentially the CFO of New York City, the comptroller is in charge of the city's finances, budget, and auditing city agencies. It's one of three citywide elected offices, along with mayor and public advocate. Scott Stringer has held the position since 2014. Before that, he served as the borough president of Manhattan for seven years.
Major issues: Stringer is a strong advocate for affordable housing, government transparency, and increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour. He's also worked to streamline the bureaucratic process for small businesses and has drawn attention to the negative financial impact that Trump's immigration policies would have on the city.
New York City Council Members
What they do: The five boroughs’ legislative body is divided into 51 districts, 48 of which are Democratic and three of which are Republican. Run separately from the mayor’s office, the Council votes on proposed laws at a city level and monitors local agencies. This month, a bill was introduced in the Council to put NYPD transparency rules into action. The City Council deals with hyper-local issues like rezoning, land use, and funding for community initiatives.
Where to find them: To look up your council member, visit the City Council’s website. You can also attend hearings and public meetings at City Hall and 250 Broadway.
What they do: Though they’re called “presidents,” there’s little executive power to the position of borough president. These five elected officials act more in an advisory capacity, advocating on behalf of their boroughs to the Mayor’s Office. They still act as high-profile public mouthpieces, however, and have a sizable say in public land use in their boroughs. Of the five BPs, all are Democrats except Staten Island’s James Oddo.
Where to find them: