Today’s news:

Vacant Peralta seat sparks charter debate

Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch and Frank J. Macchiarola, former schools chancellor and a one-time Rockaway resident, sparred over the state Assembly seat left vacant by now-state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) during a panel discussion on the city’s charter commission this week.

Macchiarola, now chancellor of St. Francis College in Brooklyn, slammed Gov. David Paterson for refusing to call a special election for the 39th Assembly District in western Queens, left open in March when Peralta won former Sen. Hiram Monserrate’s seat.

There have been reports Paterson did not want to hold the event because special elections are too costly for a state facing a budget deficit that is now more than $9 billion.

“This governor, he gives a different budget every week, but he can’t figure out that we need a special election in a district in Queens,” said Macchiarola, one of five former City Charter Review Commission chairmen who spoke to the current commission at Baruch College Monday night.

Ravitch, also a former chairman, dismissed the criticism.

“The law says if you can’t have a special election by April 30 there shall be no special election,” Ravitch said.

The five panelists spoke for about two hours to the 15 current members of the charter review commission, all of whom were appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to review the charter, the set of laws that govern the city.

Current Chairman Matthew Goldstein, head of the City University of New York, said the event was meant to help today’s commission members gain insight into previous review processes.

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and a number of community board district managers have expressed concern that charter members would eliminate or severely limit the power of their positions. Several of the panelists called on current charter members to ensure borough presidents, community boards and the public advocate play a strong a role in city government and be guaranteed a piece of the budget.

“I’d hard wire budgets for borough presidents and the public advocate,” said Esther Fuchs, chairwoman of the 2005 Charter Revision Commission and a professor and director of the Urban Policy Program at Columbia University. “The public advocate provides a citywide voice that can counter a mayor or speaker of the Council. Community boards, that’s the real voice of the people. They should be in the process.”

Joining Ravitch, Macchiarola and Fuchs were Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., the chief counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, and Randy Mastro, who served as the city’s deputy mayor for operations under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Many of the former chairmen also criticized the City Council’s decision to extend term limits last year and urged commission members to review the laws governing term limits.

“What happened in the city last year was an outrage,” Mastro said. “The voters felt disenfranchised having spoken repeatedly at the polls in favor of term limits. You need to think long and hard about ways that that issue can be put back on the ballot with related issues that will ensure the will of the voters is respected.”

The commission will hold public hearings on a number of specific issues in upcoming weeks, including on land use at the Flushing Library at 6 p.m. on June 24.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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