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The people’s choice

Kioka Jackson is waiting to hear if she’s won her share of more than a million dollars. And, no she’s not playing the lottery. She’s waiting to find out which community projects are going to be funded by the city of New York.

Jackson’s not alone. She’s one of hundreds in East Harlem trying to determine how their government tax dollars are spent. In this case, $1.5 million dollars.

First introduced in 1989, participatory budgeting is a growing movement, says Celina Su, a political science professor at Brooklyn College. While it’s growing globally, Su says New York is the only the second city in the United States to try it.

Melissa Mark-Viverito is Jackson’s councilwoman. She’s one of four City Council members allocating funds to her constituents. Last year, Mark-Viverito received about $5 million in discretionary funds.

“It really is a way of civically engaging people, of making democracy work, of giving people a voice and taking ownership for what changes they would like to see happen in their community,” says Mark-Viverito.

Especially when that trust has been broken. In 2009, Miguel Martinez, former New York City Council member, was sentenced to five years in prison, for pocketing more than $100,000 in discretionary funds. Now Mark-Viverito and other Council members want to be more transparent and involve the community.


The participatory budget votes are in: Brooklyn goes for bathrooms [Metro Focus]


  • Pat

     Let’s not think that citizen involvement in local budgeting is a new idea: the “New England town meeting” still exists.

    Participatory budgeting is what town residents do every year at our annual meeting. After proposals and public discussion,  the citizens vote directly for or against the budget item. In Cherryfield, Maine, we discuss all town funding, from snow plowing, trash services, and improvements such as sidewalks, to our parks, library, local organizations and the annual town celebration. Funds are carefully and frugally allocated because we know that each dollar is coming right out of our own pockets.

    The town meeting is a model for concepts lacking in the today’s political discourse. Citizens speak directly to each other in a public forum. Fiscal realities result in necessary compromise. Citizens understand the issues on which they are voting and will have had the opportunity to be heard.