(Felix Lipov / Shutterstock)
This story was reported by Julia Kaluta, Jon Lentz, Jessica Newman and Brad Sylvester, and written by Jon Lentz.
Some New Yorkers love their local City Council member. Others loathe their representative. Still others don’t know – or even care – who their councilman or councilwoman is.
No matter how voters feel about them, the 51 members of the New York City Council (or 50 at present, with one seat newly vacant) serve a critical function in the city. Together, they work with the mayor to decide how to allocate more than $80 billion in the city budget each year. They pass dozens of bills and shape major land use proposals. They monitor city agencies and hold them accountable to the taxpaying public.
But as anyone who pays attention to local politics can tell you, some members of the City Council are better about carrying out their duties than others. So which New York City Council members are falling short? And who is truly getting the job done – self-congratulatory press releases notwithstanding?
City & State set out to find the answer. What we ended up with is a comprehensive ranking of the best – and worst – members of the New York City Council.
We identified seven criteria to assess each member: attendance record, the number of bills introduced and signed into law, responsiveness to questions from constituents and from the media, and public prominence, as measured by Google search results and number of Twitter followers.
To track attendance, we counted all the meetings that each member was obligated to attend, including committee and subcommittee meetings, and then determined how many he or she missed. Any time a member had two meetings scheduled at the same time, we didn’t count the conflict as an absence. But other absences – for medical reasons, jury duty, funerals or family leave – were included.
On the legislative front, we tallied bill introductions but left out resolutions, which have little real weight. Only a lawmaker who was the prime sponsor of a bill qualified in this analysis. To reward effort, one criterion was the number of bills introduced. And to reward effectiveness, the other legislative criterion was the number of bills signed into law. For these first three criteria, we used data from calendar year 2016.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the job than showing up and passing laws. To assess responsiveness to constituent concerns, we sent an anonymous email to every member with a simple question, albeit one that the City Council doesn’t directly deal with: Could you provide any information on how to sign up for Medicare? Some lawmakers responded within minutes. Nearly half didn’t respond at all.
Similarly, we came up with a test to see how quickly each member would respond to a press inquiry: a request to submit the elected official’s latest headshot to update our photo archive. The responses to this request came more quickly, but 11 members still failed to reply.
Next, we tried to get a sense of each official’s prominence, on the assumption that a higher public profile helps in influencing policy debates and winning political battles. One simple indicator we used was the result of a Google search for each member’s name and the words “New York City Council.” A second indicator was each council member’s number of Twitter followers.
At that point, we ranked the members on each of the seven criteria. Each member’s overall score is the average of his or her seven rankings. The overall scores, ordered from lowest to highest, determine the final ranking.
A few unexpected challenges arose along the way: City Councilman Bill Perkins was ultimately left out of the analysis since much of the data we used is from 2016, when Inez Dickens still held his Harlem seat. Ruben Wills, who was convicted of corruption charges in July, was included in our initial analysis and stayed in the final rankings. But due to his expulsion from the City Council, he did not technically finish in the council’s bottom five lawmakers – even though he easily qualified. Apart from that, our model was finalized before we started the analysis, and we had no idea going in where each member would land in our rankings.
Some factors, like city funds a lawmaker brings back to the district, were omitted since they proved too difficult to quantify. Some of the measures we did rely on are admittedly imperfect, and others arguably should be weighted more heavily.
Taken together, however, the final rankings reveal a great deal about how well each individual member of the City Council is serving New York City.
See each member's score below, including his or her overall ranking as well as the rankings on each of the seven criteria.