The History of the New York City Legislature

By Frederick Shaw | Go to book overview

Appendix B. DIGEST OF PRINCIPAL LAWS AFFECT
ING NEW YORK'S MUNICIPAL LEGISLATURE

The Charter of 1873 introduced the "limited vote" for elections to the Board of Aldermen. Under this system several legislators are elected for a single district, but each voter ballots for a number less than the whole. The election law which governed the city from 1873 to 1882 provided that each of the city's electors vote for two aldermen from his district and four aldermen at large. Three aldermen were seated from every district and six at large. This crude system was the city's first experience with proportional representation.

The First Greater New York Charter , which went into effect in 1898, provided for a bicameral legislature, a Council (elected for four years), and a Board of Aldermen (elected for two). Nominally the city's legislative authority was vested in it, but it was hedged in with many restraints. Important proposals relating to public works required prior approval of a Board of Public Improvements. The most important administrative departments initiated all ordinances governing their work, and the municipal assembly could merely reject their proposals or pass them without amendment. The annual budget originated in the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. Powerless to initiate important measures, the legislators could clog the city government by "hanging up" dubious ordinances or blocking bond issues. The latter was particularly easy, for all financial proposals required the consent of three-fourths of all the lawmakers. The "checks and safeguards" placed upon the actions of the Municipal Assembly were so numerous and legislative powers so widely distributed that the charter proved almost unworkable.

The Charter of 1901 , which went into effect in 1902, created a unicameral Board of Aldermen. It could pass all the city's ordinances (subject to the Mayor's veto) and eliminate or reduce items in the annual budget. It shared certain administrative powers with the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, such as fixing the salaries of municipal employees and issuing special revenue bonds and corporate stock. It could investigate municipal executive departments and authorize heads of departments to make purchases in excess of $1,000 without public letting. Aldermen served on local improvement boards, which initiated resolutions concerning public works in their respective communities.

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