Charter Revision in Historical
JOSEPH P. VITERITTI
Three paramount themes have recurred over the institutional history of New York City. The first concerns local autonomy. Throughout New York's history the city has sought to rule itself, while the state government seated in Albany has consistently imposed serious compromises to municipal self-governance. The second issue concerns the devolution of authority from the central institutions of the city government to those at the borough and community levels. The boroughs asserted themselves almost immediately after the consolidated city was created and then saw their roles diminished over time. A community role was preserved in early charters. But the movement toward community government really became prominent in the 1960s and was the focal point of the Goodman charter commission reforms in 1975. The efficacy of community-based institutions remains a seriously debated policy issue today with regard to both charter reform and educational governance. The third issue of concern, which is at the center of discussion for the present charter commission, is the distribution of authority among the major citywide actors and institutions. These include the mayor, the comptroller, the council president, the borough presidents, the City Council, and the Board of Estimate. As a result of the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Morris v. Board of Estimate, the Board of Estimate is likely to be abolished. And history has shown, as this essay will demonstrate, that it is not possible to alter the power of any major institution in the city without substantially affecting the power of all the others.
The original government of New York City, established as New Amsterdam by the Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant in 1656, was modeled after the free cities