Community Power in a Postreform City: Politics in New York City

By Robert F. Pecorella | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN

Postreform and Community Activists

Having examined community board efforts in the areas of land-use planning, budget priorities, and service monitoring from a macroperspective in chapter six, we now turn to an exploration of the attitudes and behavior of individual board members. As noted previously, by the time community empowerment was incorporated into the formal processes of city government in the 1970s, the power of central-city interests coupled with the overall constraints of urban fiscal stress had acted to moderate the nature and the extent of formal decentralization in American cities. Considered within the larger context of the early postreform demands for participatory democracy and community control, the community board system in New York, with its appointed membership and its advisory powers, represents a moderate and integrative form of decentralization.

This chapter focuses on community board members in light of postreform politics. In a theoretical sense, it examines the impact of efforts to address attentive nonelite demands on individual attentive nonelites. In an operational sense, the chapter addresses several questions about the attitudes and behaviors of community board members working within New York's postreform regime. Does the community-control model, which originally characterized the postreform movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, remain relevant to board members in the late 1980s and early 1990s? If so, what factors best explain the continued salience of such an approach to urban politics? What are the effects, if any, of current attitudes toward community empowerment on the operation of an integrative model of decentralization like New York's community board system?


Community Board Members

To address these questions, I contacted a sample of community board members. Between April 1985 and February 1987, I distributed questionnaires to more than 1,800 board members, 628 of whom sent back usable responses. The respondents represented 35 percent of the members contacted and over 20 percent of the nearly 3,000 community board members across the city.

Sixty-eight percent of the respondents in the sample were men. Seventy percent were between thirty-five and sixty years of age, with 14 percent over the

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