10 Deeply Personal Reasons Why I’m Voting “Yes”
For a New York State Constitutional Convention
#1. Only every 20 years
As I’ve watch my sons grow into wonderful young adults, my anxiety over the world that we’re leaving them has also grown. Critical threats that need urgent attention now are barely perceptible on the political radar screen. If New York doesn’t have a major reboot in the form of the constitutional convention, I fear we will be characters in a Greek tragedy, having the vision to see the dangers roaring toward us, but lacking the will and knowhow to fight or flee. Our children will inherit the decisions we make. Times are changing; constitutional conventions were created to address those changes.
#2. Institutional bias must end
It’s time to repay my debts.
I was born in Atlanta in 1963 when Georgia was a Jim Crow state and any path toward citizenship for Asians was prohibited by law. I grew up in an all-white community in Ohio, isolated by race and domestic violence.
I am so lucky. Over the preceding decades, others took on tremendous risks including the sacrifice of their lives to advance civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights that gave me freedoms I wouldn’t otherwise enjoy. African Americans and women repeatedly took me under their wings and directly intervened to put me on my path to success and happiness.
But as I’ve made progress, those who have helped have fallen behind. The economic gaps continue to grow. Criminal justice is unjust. And then there’s the violence.
It must end. What we’re doing today isn’t working. There needs to be a fundamental rethinking about equality, its origins and its measures as well as a reconsideration about legal remedies. When is an act a hate crime? Domestic terrorism? Where else can that conversation happen other than in a constitutional convention?
#3. We must prepare for global warming.
I have been an environmentalist for as long as I can remember. I recycle, drive a hybrid, compost, use natural and organic products whenever possible, and buy wind powered electricity. These actions make me feel I’m helping but nature continually reminds me that what’s needed goes far far beyond the actions of any individual.
We experience increasingly violent weather and rising seas but offer no solutions for people in coastal areas. Hurricane Sandy happened five years ago, but its impact is still being felt. When the next superstorm happens, will we have directed the Legislature and Governor to create a tri-state compact to address the future, including how to relocate entire communities to higher ground and build new transportation networks and other systems to allow them to thrive?
And to do our part to slow climate change, shouldn’t we direct the government to prioritize global warming mitigation in making decisions? That’s what a constitution is for.
#4. Technology opportunities and risks
I have been a software entrepreneur for the past 20 years. As the role of technology has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, important issues surface that our nation’s founders could never have imagined, like online privacy, security over our personal data, by both private sector and the government. These should be in a constitution.
And technology has other implications.
No more reliable path to the American dream exists today than technology but the opportunities haven’t been distributed fairly. We must address universal and equal access to the Internet. Our education system — in addition to equipping students to be effective contributors to our civic society — must provide equal access to opportunities in a fast-changing economy, which may mean lifelong learning paired with apprenticeships. We have the knowhow. We need the collective will.
The digital divide between people and government is growing. Our private lives become more convenient and government services remain largely analog, which inherently discriminates against the less privileged. Requiring all government services to be delivered in the most immediate, convenient, and user-friendly methods will equalize the playing field and benefit everyone.
Finally, we need to address artificial intelligence in a meaningful way. AI, including robots, not only threaten work, but also offer abundant opportunities to hide bias in algorithms.
#5. Workers deserve a bill of rights
I am proud that I started working with my hands in restaurants, in construction, in maintenance. I was lucky. Despite often tough working conditions, I had great managers and owners who respected their workers and looked out for them. These became role models.
Organized labor is critical to securing middle class jobs in stable industries. I’m proud that New York is the national leader in workers represented by collective bargaining agreements, with 23.6%.
The other 76.4% deserve protection, too. Most industries are experiencing rapid change driven by technology that constantly changes the nature of work. A Workers Bill of Rights would bring everyone up.
#6. Speed and flexibility in responding to policy changes in Washington
I have come to expect continuing social progress as the essential promise of America. In just six months, the Trump administration has effected a startling reversal of protections, freedoms and rights painstakingly gained over decades. States can preserve gains and continue making progress.
The Assembly passed groundbreaking bills in direct response to actions taken in Washington that then languished in committee in the Senate, some for months, others for years. The only way to force the Legislature to move more quickly is through a constitutional convention that can make elected officials more accountable to voters.
#7. Do what the legislature won’t
Voters need to regain power over their elected representatives. None of the prior items above will happen without destroying the “incumbent protection plan” that resulted in a 98% re-election rate in the last statewide election. I said it all in my op-ed in The Daily Beast in January:
The most powerful disincentives to voting reform are the spoils of incumbency. No one disputes that a healthy democracy requires an expanded and invigorated base of voters. However, to incumbents, more voters represent a risk to re-election and a potential loss of financial perks including part-time second jobs, unlimited contributions from LLCs (including those with no other purpose than contributing to a politician’s campaign) and the crowning jewel, the ability to essentially convert unspent campaign funds to pay for all but the most personal expenses after leaving office. It should be no surprise that, despite years of valiant efforts by civic groups and civic-minded legislators, these measures are stymied by the many lawmakers from both parties who pay mere lip service to true voting reform.
Term limits, campaign finance reform, easier and more convenient voting, reforms to foster more competitive elections, a truly independent ethics watchdog, an independent redistricting commission, and a truly full-time legislature would essentially change the nature of legislators’ employment by the voter. Why would any employee willingly accept less certainty and having to justify their continued service every few years, including elected officials? Time for voters to reset the terms of employment for officials to align with their objectives.
I have a fundamental faith in New Yorkers as a whole after 32 years here.
I first dreamed of moving to New York when I was around 8 years old, after reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I eventually moved to Brooklyn in 1985 with about $600 to my name. It was such a struggle and just as I was having my first success, the 1989 financial crisis drove me and my first startup into bankruptcy. Then came the crack epidemic.
My love for and faith in New York has been returned in abundance. And part of it is political. In modest government jobs under Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani, then Governors Mario Cuomo and Pataki, I found people in each administration with whom I could work productively. And I’ve had the privilege of being appointed by Mayors Bloomberg and DeBlasio to the NYC Campaign Finance Board.
With respect to the constitutional convention, delegates are selected based on senate districts. In this blog post, I came to the conclusion that the convention would be dominated by Democrats. Trust.
I learned early in my career to abhor three men in a room making decisions out of sight of the public — or in a private company for that matter. The greater transparency and flatter organizational structures of tech companies suited me better.
Social media will help maintain transparency. A constitutional convention with 204 delegates armed with social media will find it nearly impossible to keep secrets from the public.
In addition, powerful software technologies now exist to make it easier for electeds to market themselves to their constituency, partly by providing real-time information flows along the process from running for office to working on proposals for potential amendments. See OSET Foundation, The Chisel, Advocate.io, Turbovote, and Councilmatic for examples.
#9. Opposing the opposition
I have absolute “no play” rules about certain groups like the Right to Life and the NRA, which are part of the “No” coalition. I also abhor strategies that put winning above all else. When I wrote my blog post about the Steve Bannon tactics employed by the “No” vote, I was also unaware that they were using Brabender Cox, the right wing ad agency best known for their work for Mike Pence and Rick Santorum.
#10. Change the status quo
If the status quo works for you, vote “No.” But if change means something to you, vote “Yes.” There is no other choice.