It Takes a Village, Idiot

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With the 100th anniversary of New York City's five-borough government looming next year, one reformer has a downsizing dream to change the city's basic political structure.

Richard Benjamin, a SUNY/New Paltz professor and one of the architects of the city's 1989 charter reform, told participants at an April Regional conference that he wants to see New York revert to a system of 50 or 60 “villages.” Gone would be the power-drained borough presidencies along with politician-appointed community boards and the newly weakened school boards.

The villages, Benjamin says, would elect their own governing boards and control $35 million budgets formerly spent by the beeps. “To have real local government we need to get rid of what's there now,” he said. Such towns-within-cities will be able to more clearly articulate policy priorities, he added.

But critics argue that his hamletization scheme wouldn't do much to change the basic problem local governments have faced in their fights with City Hall: the city's refusal to cede real power or cash to neighborhoods. “If we need more localism, we have a system now that can work, ” says Edward Rogowsky, a city planning commissioner and former community board director for Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden. “Give community boards the resources, the expectations and accountability and then let's see what happens.”

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