What do you do when “NO” flyers scream at your “YES” yard sign?

The bitter and divisive fight over New York’s Constitutional Convention in front of my house

Art Chang
4 min readOct 25, 2017


Only once every 20 years do New Yorkers get a chance to vote on a constitutional convention as a way to bypass the dysfunctional Legislature to amend New York’s constitution. The vote is November 7. I’ve been working nearly full-time as a volunteer on this, via The Sanctuary State Project.

Two weeks ago I installed a yard sign in front of my house to show my support.

Last week, someone taped flyers on the streetlight immediately across from it:

I don’t really like anything taped to this streetlight since it just looks messy, especially after it rains. But what do you do to respect another’s rights to express their opinion, even if it’s opposed to yours?

I turned it into a public debate board, including identifying myself by name and contact info. I also luckily made it detachable and brought it in from yesterday’s rain. It’s now reinstalled.

Here’s what I wrote on the left, in response to the flyers on the right:


The entire “Yes” coalition fundamentally agrees that pensions should be protected. But the implication of this statement is that the Constitutional Convention would jeopardize union pensions. That is conjecture presented as fact.

Response #1: Public Employee Pensions Not at Risk

If New Yorkers vote on November 7 to hold a constitutional convention. Both the State and U.S. Constitutions prohibit a Constitutional Convention from altering the benefits of current employees including those that have not yet accrued.

  • Protected by New York’s Constitution.
    By declaring pensions to be a contractual relationship, the New York Constitution made public employee pensions protected by both the State and U.S. Constitutions.
  • Protected by the U.S. Constitution.
    The U.S. Constitution specifies things that states cannot do. One of them is to “pass any law impairing the obligation of contract.” This is known as the “Contract Clause.” Because the U.S. Constitution overrides any state law, this clause would prevail.
  • Only applies to public sector employee pensions.
    Doesn’t apply to private sector employee pensions, which are not protected by any constitution.
  • Legislature already has power to change future pension obligations.
    Legislature has done it in the past. And periodic contract negotiations tinker with these benefits. It doesn’t require a constitutional convention to do that.
  • Bankruptcy can put pensions at risk.
    It is inconceivable that New York State would become insolvent in the foreseeable future; however, if it does, the constitutional guarantee wouldn’t matter anyway since bankruptcy prevails over any other guarantee.


If everyone is in the middle, how would that remain the middle?

Response #2: Everyone deserves to retire in dignity

Guaranteed minimum income is one ambitious idea proposed. But something like universal healthcare would go a long way. The New York Assembly actually passed universal, single-payer health-care, but it’s held hostage in the New York Senate by the IDC, along with 25 other groundbreaking bills.

  • 76.4% not represented by unions
    How do we protect the rights of working people not represented through collective bargaining? Only 23.6% of New Yorkers are represented by a union; although it’s the highest in the U.S. what about the other 76.4%
  • 85% not in public employee unions
    Not all workers are in public sector unions. Only 15% enjoy the pension guarantee of New York’s constitution. How do we expand the retirement safety net?
  • What about a “worker bill of rights”?
    It’s time to focus on expanding protections for all workers.

Statement #3: WE ARE THE 99%!

RESPONSE #3: “No” coalition is NOT the 99%!

Progressive groups — our traditional allies who we support and partner with, notably the unions, the Working Family Party, Planned Parenthood, NAACP — encourage everyone to vote “No” on November 7. But things are wrong with this picture.

  • Right to Life? NRA? Republicans?
    What are progressive opponents to the Constitutional Convention doing on the same side as Trump’s allies? The “No” Coalition has embraced groups that I personally would never side with: Right to Life, NRA, Republicans, Conservatives. Would you?
  • Mike Pence’s Ad Agency?
    Why would progressive groups ever hire one of the favorite communications firms to the Far Right, who worked on the campaigns of Mike Pence and Rick Santorum.
  • The real 99% will vote “Yes.” If they vote.
    The October Siena College poll show the two sides in a statistical dead heat (44% to 39%); however, if you are under 35, African-American, Latino, or lower income, the poll shows over 60% would vote “Yes.” This group says “We need change now, not in another 20 years.”

So far, no updates have posted to the right side of the debate board.



Art Chang

Fighting for Equity. Columbia Professor. Board Chair of CACF.org. Former 2021 Candidate for NYC Mayor. NYC Votes, Casebook, Queens West