City Council leaders over the past year have talked a lot about race, justice and inclusion. But when it comes to whom the Council appoints to city boards and commissions, that talk translates mostly to Whites and people who live in Manhattan getting plum posts, according to a City Limits investigation.
New York City’s population of 8.6 million residents is 32 percent white, 29 percent Latino, 24 percent African-American, and 14 percent Asian.
Yet, a review of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s appointments to boards, commissions, and councils during his first year in office found that 46 percent are white, 26 percent are Latino, 21 percent are black, and 8 percent are Asian.
While the speaker only made 39 appointments in 2018—a fairly small sample size—the over-representation of Whites compared with other groups is striking, and a red flag for proponents of diversity in the legislative body.
Asked about the skew, Council Communications Director Jennifer Fermino responded: “The Speaker is committed to diversity and works to appoint a diverse range of women and men to boards. We are particularly proud that the majority of the Speaker’s appointments are people of color.”
“That said, this was his first year as Speaker and he is determined to be better going forward so our cultural and civic institutions are representative of this great city,” she continued.
A quiet power
Making appointments is the Council’s third greatest power after voting on the budget and on land use. The Council has the power to fill 241 appointments. The speaker has sole discretion over naming 70 percent of them. The terms for appointments are staggered. They are filled when the terms of previous appointees end.
Appointees’ race was determined by reviewing news clips, social media, and business and governmental websites. Their residences were determined by reviewing voter registrations, social media, and property records.
Under the City Charter and local, state, and federal laws, many of these boards, commissions, and councils provide critical governmental oversight functions on a broad range of issues, from local elections, to equal employment practices.
By extension, some of the people named to these bodies have substantial power.
Service on these boards also provides appointees with experience at the highest levels of their fields or in local government.
Latinos—who first established a foothold here in 1928, when Puerto Ricans fled the island following a devastating hurricane, to today, when, with Dominicans and Mexicans, comprise nearly a third of the population—are somewhat under-represented among the speaker’s appointees. Blacks are more substantially under-represented, and Asians pretty dramatically so.
In sharp contrast, Whites, who account for a third of the population, made up nearly half of the speaker’s first year of appointees.
|Race/ethnicity||Number of appointments||Share of appointments||Share of city population, 2017|
The appointments record could be seen at odds with the rhetoric Johnson used after convincing Democratic Party county leaders to name him, a White man, to lead the Council in a city where two thirds of the population is comprised of racial or ethnic minorities and where two of the three other citywide officials—Mayor de Blasio and Comptroller Scott Stringer—are also White men. (Then-Public Advocate Letitia James was the lone person of color at the citywide level. Now that she has ascended to statewide office, a diverse field is vying to replace her via a February 26th special election.)
After he was elected speaker, Johnson, who is both gay and HIV-positive, told an audience at the Rev. Al Sharpton’s weekly meeting in Harlem: “Those are things that are not the same as being a person of color in New York in anyway whatsoever, but I hope it’s given me the sensitivity and the compassion to stand with and want to work with communities that have been oppressed and marginalized, historically and systematically.”
The early statistics on Johnson’s appointments mirror the record on the other side of City Hall, where de Blasio’s hiring practices indicate major racial disparities.
Despite comprising nearly a third of the city’s population, Latinos account for less than 11 percent of the 4,700 people working in official/administrative level jobs in the de Blasio administration, according to 2017 report to federal regulators. While Latinos are the second largest racial/ethnic group in the city after Whites, they rank fourth in jobs in City Hall, after Asians—especially troubling when you consider that Latinos (mostly Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Mexicans) also are the poorest of the city’s racial and ethnic groups, and most in need of sound policy that reflects their community’s needs.
Outer boroughs slighted
In the City Council, the so-called outer boroughs did not win their fair share of appointments either.
Nearly a third of the city’s population lives in Brooklyn, while nearly another third lives in Queens. A fifth lives in Manhattan, 17 percent lives in the Bronx, and six percent lives on Staten Island.
But when it came to City Council appointments in 2018, Manhattan came out ahead, with 24 of the 39 appointments. There were four each from Brooklyn and Queens, two from the Bronx and one from Staten Island. One appointee hailed from outside the city, and residence could not be determined for three of them.
From the day Johnson was elected to serve, he has been an advocate for open government, including expanding the participatory budget process. Johnson could do the same with the Council appointment process—by posting all 241 appointments on the Council website so that members of the public can apply online and publishing details of all appointments online for public scrutiny.
2018 City Council Speaker Appointments
|Waterfront Management Advisory Board||Henry Wan||Asian||undetermined|
|Public Theatre||Andrea Gordillo||Latino||undetermined|
|Committee on City Healthcare Services||Judith Salerno, MD||White||undetermined|
|Drug Strategy Advisory Council||Hiawatha Collins||Black||Bronx|
|Drug Strategy Advisory Council||Chinazo Cunningham, MD||Latino||Bronx|
|Council Charter Revision Commission||Rev. Clinton Miller||Black||Brooklyn|
|Brooklyn Botanic Garden||Lilian Pascone||Latino||Brooklyn|
|Brooklyn Academy of Music||Christopher Coffey||White||Brooklyn|
|Jazz at Lincoln Center||Kevin MCabe McCabe||White||Brooklyn|
|Museum of Modern Art||Reshma Saujani||Asian||Manhattan|
|Voter Assistance Advisory Committee||Mazeda Uddin||Asian||Manhattan|
|Construction Work in Occupied Building Task Force||Yonatan Tadele||Black||Manhattan|
|Council Charter Revision Commission||Gail Benjamin||Black||Manhattan|
|Drug Strategy Advisory Council||Kassandra Frederique||Black||Manhattan|
|Solid Waste Advisory Board||Nathaniel Johnson||Black||Manhattan|
|Wildlife Conservation Society||Derrick Lewis||Black||Manhattan|
|Committee on City Healthcare Services||Anthony Feliciano||Latino||Manhattan|
|Council Charter Revision Commission||Lilliam Barrios-Paoli||Latino||Manhattan|
|Museum of the City of New York||Elizabeth DeLeon-Bhargava||Latino||Manhattan|
|Nightlife Advisory Board||Pedro Goico||Latino||Manhattan|
|Veterans Advisory Board||Charles Hernandez||Latino||Manhattan|
|Committee on City Healthcare Services||Louis Cholden-Brown||White||Manhattan|
|Construction Work in Occupied Building Task Force||Samuel Chiera||White||Manhattan|
|Construction Work in Occupied Building Task Force||Caitlin Fahey||White||Manhattan|
|Council Charter Revision Commission||Merryl Tish||White||Manhattan|
|Drug Strategy Advisory Council||Louis Cholden-Brown||White||Manhattan|
|Metropolitan Museum of Art||Gregory Zaffiro||White||Manhattan|
|New York Public Library||Matthew Ailey||White||Manhattan|
|Nightlife Advisory Board||Marti Allen-Cummings||White||Manhattan|
|Nightlife Advisory Board||Robert Bookman||White||Manhattan|
|Primary Care Development Corporation||CM Mark Levine||White||Manhattan|
|Public Realm Improvement Fund Governing Group||Daniel Garodnick||White||Manhattan|
|The Shed||Inge Ivchenko||White||Manhattan|
|Veterans Advisory Board||Wendy McClinton||Black||Outside NYC|
|Post-Incarceration Reentry for Older Adults||Alvaro Cumberbatch||Latino||Queens|
|Post-Incarceration Reentry for Older Adults||Sister Tesa Fitzgerald||White||Queens|
|Site Safety Training Task Force||Richard Salorio||White||Queens|
|Veterans Advisory Board||John Rowan||White||Queens|
|Waterfront Management Advisory Board||Kelly Vilar||Latino||Staten Island|