New York City Politics: Governing Gotham

By Bruce F. Berg | Go to book overview
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The Charter, the Mayor,
and the Other Guys

The City Charter

Chapter three discussed the control that the state can exercise over New York City. It discussed the concept of home rule whereby states give local governments limited authority to govern themselves. Home rule includes, in most cases, the power of the local entity to “frame, adopt and amend charters for their government and to exercise powers of local self government, subject to the constitution and general laws of the state” (Adrian and Fine 1991, 86). Charters are not constitutions. They are similar to constitutions in that they normally determine the basic structures of the government and significant processes. Similar to constitutions, charters lay out how the institutions of government function as well as the roles and responsibilities of each government official. Charters may also describe basic governmental procedures, such as how a municipal budget gets approved or how decisions are made about land use (Goodwin 1982). They do not, however, structure the rights of citizens inside the political system, as most constitutions do. This power is reserved to states and their constitutions.

New York State did not give New York City the power to define and modify its own charter until 1924 (Benjamin 1995, 208). From 1924 to 1989, New York City had a modified strong mayor-council structure of government as described in its charter. Since 1989, the New York City governmental structure has had a strong-mayor model without the modification. This model of municipal governance has several key characteristics. First, the administrative function of government is controlled by a mayor elected by the citizens of the political system. The mayor, as chief executive, is responsible for the implementation of policy. In this capacity, the mayor has the ability to appoint the heads of all administrative agencies as well as prepare the government's budget. Second, the mayor and an elected legislative body, the city council, share the law-making function. The city council in its legislative capacity is responsible for the passage of laws, but the mayor has veto power. The city council also has the power to adopt the budget


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