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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]