The History of the New York City Legislature

By Frederick Shaw | Go to book overview

13. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

It remains . . . now for the City Council to carve its place into the government structure of the City of New York.--NEWBOLD MORRIS, First President of the Council, January 26, 19381

IT BECAME FASHIONABLE in the 1930's to condemn New York's charter as a relic of the horse car era. "I know of nothing in the city that is as old as the charter," reflected ex-Governor Smith in 1932, "unless it be the Criminal Courts Building, the city prison, the City Hall, and the sewer system." It cannot be gainsaid that portions of the document were obsolete--certainly provisions for regulation of tricycles, stage coaches, and horse trolleys by the Board of Aldermen were outdated.2 But the real trouble with the city legislature went deeper. A decade after the Greater New York Charter was adopted an authority had diagnosed the situation:

New York has [not] made any improvement in its government through elevating the character of the local legislature. Little, if any, thought and no effort worth mentioning has been bestowed . . . upon this method of bettering the conduct of local affairs. . . . The legislature of its own motion and at the suggestions of residents of the city was habitually modifying, revising, or repealing this or that provision of the huge congeries of statutes under which the city government was conducted. Nothing was final. The city government at any given time was simply one of a series of legislative experiments. . . . Under these conditions it is not surprising that the bettering of city government in New York through the elevation of the character of the aldermen was not seriously attempted nor even seriously considered.3

____________________
1
Radio Address over Station WHN, "Municipal Home Rule Under the City Council."
2
Seabury Minutes, p. 9638; "Absurdities in the Charter and in the Code of Ordinances" (Earle Papers in the Oral History Project at Columbia University; mimeographed); Charter of 1901, Secs. 49-50.
3
Deming, Govt. of American Cities, pp. 89-90.

-229-

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