New York City

Who are the most responsive New York City Council members?

Leaders of the council’s census task force didn’t respond to a question on how to be counted.

Council member Antionio Reynoso came in #11 on City & State's list of Best & Worst NYC lawmakers.

Council member Antionio Reynoso came in #11 on City & State's list of Best & Worst NYC lawmakers. John McCarten/New York City Council

New York City officials are on the front lines of an aggressive census outreach campaign this year, allocating $40 million to assist the effort, holding events and partnering with nonprofits to raise awareness, and pointing out the ramifications to the city if the turnout is low. 

However, when an anonymous email request was sent to each member of the New York City Council seeking information about how to be counted, fewer than half of them bothered to respond. 

In late November, City and State used a fake email address to send a message to all 51 New York City Council members and asked a straightforward question: “Hi – do you have any information about how to be counted in the 2020 census? Thanks!” 

While the responses ranged from automated replies to detailed descriptions of the process, only 23 of the lawmakers responded to our inquiry. 

When asked about the lack of responsiveness in the council, the New York Immigration Coalition, an advocacy group that has been playing a major part in the city’s census outreach, was quick to praise several council members, including Council Speaker Corey Johnson and the two co-chairs of the 2020 Census Task Force, Carlos Menchaca and Carlina Rivera. 

“The coalition will continue to work with the City Council to ensure each and every district is counted,” said Rush Perez, a spokesperson for the New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella organization representing over 200 immigrant and refugee rights groups. “Currently, the NYIC is ramping up our efforts around the 2020 Census both here in NYC and across the state. We are hopeful that the rest of the City Council will follow the lead set by Speaker Johnson and Council Members Menchaca and Rivera around this vital issue.”

In an interview with City & State late last year, Menchaca said that he and Rivera were focusing on providing resources that actually work and sharing them with other members. "What you're going to see Carlina Rivera and I do is really kind of work with local councilmembers at that level to troubleshoot and to bring resources and to really bring things that are actually working in some neighborhoods and share them with other members,” he said. “So we're really going to be a hub of information, troubleshooting throughout the next six months."

However, Menchaca and Rivera, who were appointed to the council’s task force in January of last year, were among the many council members who never responded to the email request. 

In response, Menchaca’s office emphasized its active outreach efforts. “While responding to every constituent request is important, equally important is not waiting for a request and proactively talking to constituents about important issues,” a spokesperson for Menchaca wrote in an email. “Council Member Menchaca prioritizes this outreach, especially with Census 2020. In addition to multiple appearances at town halls and events across the city, last weekend Council Member Menchaca hosted a meeting with every organization in his district who won a grant from the City’s unprecedented Census funding effort. We believe we are the only Council Office that has done this with grantees since the funding was announced earlier this month.”

Rivera’s office declined to comment. 

The email City & State sent in November was a simple way to quantify responsiveness to constituents, and one of the five criteria we considered while ranking council members from best to worst. For those interested in how we did it, here’s our methodology

We set a low bar for measuring responsiveness to constituents: any response counted. While a good number of the responses were extensive and provided useful information and links, many of them were automated or asked for a mailing address to confirm whether the sender was actually a constituent. 

Similarly, we sent an email to the office of each council member requesting that they send us their latest headshot, which we used as a measure of how responsive they are to the media. Here’s who responded to each question: 

Constituent question

Responded (23 members): Joe Borelli, Alan Maisel, Antonio Reynoso, Barry Grodenchik, Brad Lander, Chaim Deutsch, Corey Johnson, Eric Ulrich, Farah Louis,Helen Rosenthal, Jimmy Van Bramer,Justin Brannan, Kalman Yeger, Karen Koslowitz, Keith Powers, Laurie Cumbo, Mark Treyger, Paul Vallone,Peter Koo, Robert Holden, Rory Lancman, Stephen Levin, Steven Matteo

Did not respond (28 members): Adrienne Adams, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Andrew Cohen, Andy King, Ben Kallos, Bill Perkins, Carlina Rivera, Carlos Menchaca, Costa Constantinides, Daniel Dromm, Deborah Rose, Diana Ayala, Donovan Richards, Fernando Cabrera, Francisco Moya, I. Daneek Miller, Inez Barron, Margaret Chin, Mark Gjonaj, Mark Levine, Mathieu Eugene, Rafael Espinal, Rafael Salamanca, Ritchie Torres, Robert Cornegy, Ruben Diaz Sr., Vanessa Gibson, Ydanis Rodriguez

Media request

Responded (33 members): Adrienne Adams, Alan Maisel, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Andrew Cohen, Antonio Reynoso, Barry Grodenchik, Ben Kallos, Carlos Menchaca, Chaim Deutsch, Daniel Dromm, Deborah Rose, Donovan Richards, Eric Ulrich, Fernando Cabrera, Helen Rosenthal, I. Daneek Miller, Joe Borelli, Justin Brannan, Karen Koslowitz, Keith Powers, Margaret Chin, Mark Treyger, Mathieu Eugene, Peter Koo, Rafael Espinal, Ritchie Torres, Robert Cornegy, Robert Holden, Rory Lancman, Ruben Diaz Sr., Steven Matteo, Vanessa Gibson, Ydanis Rodriguez

Did not respond (18 members): Andy King, Bill Perkins, Brad Lander, Carlina Rivera, Corey Johnson, Costa Constantinides, Diana Ayala, Farah Louis, Francisco Moya, Inez Barron, Jimmy Van Bramer, Kalman Yeger, Laurie Cumbo, Mark Gjonaj, Mark Levine, Paul Vallone, Rafael Salamanca, Stephen Levin

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect that the offices of New York City Councilman I. Daneek Miller and Keith Powers did attempt to respond to City & State's photo requests and are thus counted as having responded.