The Best & Worst New York City Lawmakers

#1 New York City Council Member Helen Rosenthal gets a high-five from a constituent.
#1 New York City Council Member Helen Rosenthal gets a high-five from a constituent.
William Alatriste/New York City Council
#1 New York City Council Member Helen Rosenthal gets a high-five from a constituent.

The Best & Worst New York City Lawmakers

Ranking the council’s most effective members with cold, hard math.
January 26, 2020

Over the next two years, dozens of New York City Council members will be hitting the campaign trail. A number of them will try to keep their seats in 2021. Many more will reach the term limit of the office, and they may want to continue serving as an elected official elsewhere. Some are running this year for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives or for Queens borough president. Others are eyeing posts that will open up next year, like the rest of the borough president offices or the more powerful city positions of mayor or comptroller.

As voters consider their options leading up to the elections, what better way to evaluate these sitting lawmakers than to scrutinize their current records? That’s one reason why we’re bringing back our ranking of New York City Council members.

The criteria

We used five criteria to assess each member: the number of bills introduced, the number of bills signed into law, attendance, and responsiveness to questions from constituents and from the media. We selected these criteria because they are reasonable – and because they are measurable.

1

To determine how good each lawmaker is at lawmaking, we first tallied all of the bills signed into law last year. We then ranked each council member based on the number of new laws for which they were the prime sponsor, from most to least. We counted bill introductions but left out resolutions, which have little impact. We included any bills signed in 2019, regardless of when they were introduced. 

While bill signings signal effectiveness, we also wanted to reward effort – so we conducted the same analysis for bills introduced by lawmakers in 2019, regardless of where those measures ended up.

3

A prerequisite for any job is actually showing up, so our third measure is attendance. We counted all the meetings that each council member attended, including committee meetings, and how many he or she missed. While some absences were explained – for medical reasons, funerals or family leave – they were all included in our analysis.

4

Some council members would protest that there’s more to the job than showing up and passing laws – and they’d be right. Many of them pride themselves on providing stellar constituent services. While we can’t realistically stand outside every district office to survey local residents who swing by – or check to see if the offices are actually open – we took another approach. To assess responsiveness to constituents, we sent an anonymous email late last year to every office with a simple question: “Hi – do you have any information about how to be counted in the 2020 census? Thanks!” Some lawmakers responded within minutes, often with helpful information. We set a low bar, counting any response – even requests for an address for verification, or suggestions that we contact our congressman, or autoreplies with a phone number to call – as long as it came in within seven days. Still, fewer than half responded. 

5

Similarly, we came up with a test to see how quickly each member would respond to a press inquiry: a request to submit the officeholder’s latest headshot. We were lenient in grading this test too, with any reply at all within seven days qualifying as a response, even if we never got a photo. However, 18 members didn’t even write back.

The totals

Finally, we took the rankings for each measure and calculated an average score, weighting each factor equally. For example, if a single council member was theoretically No. 1 on all five measures, he or she would get a score of 1. The overall scores, ordered from lowest to highest, gave us our final ranking.

Some caveats

Unlike our 2017 rankings, we dropped the number of Google search results of each member’s name from this year’s analysis, in part because it leaves out online mentions in languages other than English – including Chinese and Spanish language media in immigrant-heavy districts. We also dropped Twitter followers as a measure, since it could penalize older lawmakers who are less adept with social media – and because less than a quarter of American adults even use Twitter.

We omitted Jumaane Williams, who only served a few months in 2019 before becoming public advocate, and we also left out his successor, Farah Louis, since she didn’t serve a full year either. 

By design, this list leaves out certain factors, such as the significance of legislation. Considerations such as whether a bill becomes a landmark law or makes a technical fix, or whether it’s widely acclaimed or highly controversial, would inject subjective judgments into the analysis. Critics of a libertarian bent might argue that more legislation is not better. While it’s a fair point, the productiveness of a lawmaker still tells us something useful about their proactiveness. We also declined to draw a line on various types of absences, to avoid judging which ones are acceptable and which ones aren’t. City Councilman Alan Maisel missed 21 meetings for medical reasons, for example, while City Councilman Stephen Levin missed 44 days on paternity leave – although neither one landed at the bottom of our list. 

One troubling result that can’t be ignored is that four of the five worst lawmakers are racial minorities, while all five of the best lawmakers are white. This is a worrisome outcome. We reflected on how to eliminate any potential sources of bias – which is partly why we removed Google results and Twitter followers. After thinking long and hard, we felt that the criteria are still the best available. Public servants who are paid by taxpayers ought to show up, listen to their constituents, identify issues that should be addressed, craft policy responses, and be transparent with the press.

Here are the complete rankings. And for those who want more details, here’s our methodology.

  • 1. Keith Powers (tie)
  • 1. Helen Rosenthal (tie)
  • 3. Robert Holden
  • 4. Corey Johnson
  • 5. Mark Treyger
  • 6. Daniel Dromm
  • 7. Ben Kallos
  • 8. Mark Levine
  • 9. Steven Matteo
  • 10. Chaim Deutsch
  • 11. Antonio Reynoso
  • 12. Joe Borelli
  • 13. Alicka Ampry-Samuel
  • 14. Peter Koo
  • 15. Donovan Richards
  • 16. Robert Cornegy
  • 17. Adrienne Adams
  • 18. Carlina Rivera
  • 19. Diana Ayala
  • 20. Justin Brannan
  • 21. Margaret Chin
  • 22. Costa Constantinides
  • 23. Barry Grodenchik
  • 24. Stephen Levin
  • 25. Ydanis Rodriguez
  • 26. Rafael Salamanca
  • 27. Paul Vallone
  • 28. Fernando Cabrera
  • 29. Ritchie Torres
  • 30. Brad Lander
  • 31. Karen Koslowitz
  • 32. Laurie Cumbo
  • 33. Andrew Cohen
  • 34. Francisco Moya
  • 36. Rafael Espinal
  • 37. I. Daneek Miller
  • 38. Vanessa Gibson
  • 39. Mathieu Eugene
  • 40. Jimmy Van Bramer
  • 41. Rory Lancman
  • 42. Carlos Menchaca
  • 43. Kalman Yeger
  • 44. Deborah Rose
  • 45. Eric Ulrich
  • 46. Alan Maisel
  • 47. Inez Barron
  • 48. Mark Gjonaj
  • 49. Ruben Diaz Sr.
  • 50. Andy King
  • 51. Bill Perkins

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect that the offices of I. Daneek Miller and Keith Powers did submit headshots. Powers’ office provided email evidence that they had responded to our request, even though we never received it, possibly due to a technical problem on one side or the other. Miller’s office replied to a separate City & State photo request two days prior to the request sent to each council member, and his staff assumed we had what we needed. These changes move Miller from No. 45 to No. 36, while Powers moves from No. 7 to No. 1. Since we already designated Helen Rosenthal as the top council member, we are now officially recognizing both Rosenthal and Powers as the top New York City lawmakers. 

With reporting by Jeff Coltin, Jon Lentz and Madeline Lyskawa.

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