New York City voters passed three landmark racial equity proposals put forth by the Racial Justice Commission and a proposal aimed at funding climate change initiatives. The ballot measures scored at least 70% or more of the votes last week.

As of Nov. 9, the Board of Elections’ results for Proposal 1 involving the CLEAN WATER, CLEAN AIR, AND GREEN JOBS Environmental Bond Act of 2022 had 81.06% yes votes. Proposal 2, which adds a statement of ‘Values to Guide Government’ to the city charter, had 72.31% of the yes votes. Proposal 3 establishes the first ever, citywide Racial Equity Office, Plan, and Commission. It had 69.80% of the yes votes and 30.20% of the no votes. And Proposal 4, on the measure of the ‘True Cost of Living’ in New York City, had 81.03% of the yes votes.

The proposals make structural changes to combat racial justice, economic inequity, and climate change in our city’s charter. The city’s charter is important because it helps shape nonpartisan policy and is much harder to change as opposed to a law or executive order. 

“Equity and justice go hand in hand and are key to building a prosperous city that serves all New Yorkers,” said Mayor Eric Adams in a statement. “By using their voices and their votes for all three racial justice ballot proposals, New Yorkers have placed racial equity at the heart of our city’s government. Our administration is fully committed to advancing equity, and I am proud of New Yorkers’ decision to create the first-ever Racial Equity Office.”

The Racial Justice Commission (RJC) was convened by former Mayor Bill de Blasio in March 2021. The commission’s job was to produce a formal report and recommendations on underlying sources of inequity by December 2021. It was a temporary task force and now, through the voted on proposals, the commission will be a permanent office. 

Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and executive director of The Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, is the current chair of the RJC. She wasn’t sure if she would be appointed to a permanent position. Regardless, she was excited and proud to see proposals pass that people could “see themselves in.” Austin explained that many pieces of legislation on the surface appear “race neutral” but end up benefiting one group because of biases and bigotry in its implementation. That’s what the commission and office works to correct.

She said she anticipated a little bit of a dip in support for Proposal 3, which was the only ballot measure to specifically mention racial equity. 

“For some people they saw it as just a layer of government and might cost New York more money if there was like a tax. There’s a segment of the population that still today doesn’t appreciate that you just can’t talk racism away. I think there are people who believe in opportunity for all but are challenged when it comes to what that would actually look like,” said Austin about why Proposal 3 had the lowest number of yes votes among the proposals. “Notwithstanding, we should feel good that it did [pass].”

Austin added that all the ballots had an element of racial justice and equity, even the Clean Water Bond Act of 2022 in Proposal 1. The bond act is essentially an authorized loan that gives the state permission to borrow money in order to fund climate justice and goals that have to be met in the coming years. “It is the communities of color, lower income, where climate change is having the most devastating impacts,” said Austin. “Where you see flooding issues, pollutants pervade the skies, pipeline erosion and the impact that can have on quality of water.”

Most voters who spoke to the Amsterdam News on Election Day at the polls said they voted yes for all the ballot measures on the back of the ballot because they just “made sense” for the city.

“New York City voters made clear that they support our city government prioritizing racial justice by confronting the structural and systemic inequities that have long impacted New Yorkers. Black New Yorkers, as well as many other communities of color, have long endured disparities in access to economic and educational opportunities, health, and safety,” said Speaker Adrienne Adams in a statement. 

Speaker Adams said that a new Racial Equity Office, Plan and Commission will be critical to reducing and eliminating racial disparities, while a new measure of the true cost of living will help the government more accurately account for the economic pressures facing New Yorkers in our policy decisions.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting:

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