Please note: this text may be incomplete. For more information about this OCR, view About OCR text.
NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 19, 1916
WHAT KIND OF HOME RULE DOES THE CITY OF
NEW YORK REQUIRE AND WHY?
By HENRY BRUERE, City Chamberlain
HOME rule has for many years been
a political battle cry in New York.
The struggle for home rule began when
the State legislature practically took the
city government over bodily, even going
so far as to make city appropriations
from the capitol at Albany. Reformers
have demanded home rule, politicians
have promised home rule, but after
decades of discussion home rule is still
an aspiration and not an immediate
probability in New York City.
Mayor Mitchel's article last week dis¬
cussed some of the legal aspects of home
rule. These may seem at first glance
to be difficult and complicated. Experi¬
ence has shown that some complexity
is necessary in the framing of home rule
provisions to avoid judicial overturning
of home rule powers. But this is a mat¬
ter for skilled lawyers to attend to.
What laymen need to concern theirl-
selves with are the aims and results of
home rule and not the legal phraseology
necessary to bring it about. These aims
and results are easy to comprehend.
What Home Rule Means.
Home rule for New York City is still
- a remote possibility chiefly because the
demand for it among citizens of New
York is vague and undefined. Home
rule has been most often discussed as a
negative proposal. It has expressed
largely rhetorical revolt against up-state
control of New York City affairs
through the legislature. But .genuine
home rule is rather a positive responsi¬
bility than a negative state of freedom
from legislative control. Clearly it does
not mean merely the absence of legis¬
lative interference. It means, rather,
the assumption by the people of the lo¬
cality of the difficult task of organizing,
commissioning and controlling their lo¬
If out of five million people in New
York City 5,000 were actively concerned
with having a city government do work
of the most completely effective char¬
acter, it would not take New York long
to obtain home rule. The chief obstacle
to home rule in New York is that the
number of persons who are intimately
concerned about the welfare and effec¬
tiveness of city government is so limited
that radical reforms such as the substi¬
tution of local for le.gislative re,gulation
of city affairs are slow in coming. In or¬
der to inspire a more insistent and coer¬
cive demand for home rule it is neces¬
sary, iu my judgment, for the people of
the city to think in terms of the definite
responsibilities of home rule instead of
in the vague generalities of the doctrines
and theories of home rule.
City a Part of State.
The city is a subdivision of the state.
There is no justification for complete
municipal self-government by a city un¬
less the city is prepared to discharge its
business with greater effectiveness and
regard for public welfare under its own
complete management than under a
form of govei-nment and rules of opera¬
tion prescribed by the state. This can
only happen when public interest in gov¬
ernment and public desire for govern¬
ment results are so vigorous and insis¬
tent as to exercise the same influence
for good in the management of local af¬
fairs that is presumed to be exercised
by the responsibility and disinterested¬
ness of the legislature.
HON. HE.NKV BRUERE.
I therefore place as a first step in the
direction of home rule the development
of a genuinely passionate concern for
efficient and constructive government on
the part of a large number of citizens.
This, I think, is coming about, but it is
coming slowly in New York, much more
slowly than in the cities of the West,
where home rule has been achieved.
Home Rule in Ohio.
The cities of Ohio have availed them¬
selves of their power to obtain home
rule when they felt a strong desire to
direct and control government in the
public interest. Home rule is natural
in the city of Cleveland, because Cleve¬
land, under Mayor Johnson's brilliant
leadership, learned to think of city gov¬
ernment as a publicly owned instrument
for dealing with questions of the great¬
est public moment such as street railway
transportation. In Dayton, Ohio, home
rule followed inevitably upon the recog¬
nition by the citizens of Dayton, com¬
pelled by the great flood of 1911, that
the reliabilitation of the devastated city
would only be possible by vigorous and
unprejudiced action of city government.
New York came nearest home rule
when it felt the need_ for working
through city government in dealing with
its great transportation problem. New
York will wish home rule now with
greater earnestness as it feels that it
can achieve a greater economy and
straightforwardness of management
through the exercise of home rule
■WHAT HOME RULE DOES.
It imposes restraint upon the
legislatiire of the State with re¬
spect to the passage of measures
It grants by constitutional right
as opposed to legislative authority,
certain definite powers to munici¬
palities which the legislature may
It authorizes the city to frame
its own charter.
I venture to say that even the aver¬
age intelligent man has not set up in
his mind a clear picture of what home
rule means. Let us first dispose of some
Property owners now look to the
State for limitations on the local power
to levy taxes. Home rule would not
mean release from State ta.xing limita¬
tion. Sometimes local latitude in se¬
lecting methods of ta.xation is considered
desirable, but generally it is agreed that
the local government should not be
given power to increase taxation beyond
a definite point fixed by State constitu¬
tion or State legislature.
Home rule would not mean vesting in
elective officials power fundamentally to
reconstruct the government or to change
the terms or conditions under which
public officials were elected. Such
powers would be vested only in the elec¬
tors of the city who through referendum
would be obliged to approve a new char¬
ter or radical amendments thereto.
Home rule would not vest in local
authoriities complete control over civil
service. It is generally agreed that civil
service regulations should be subservient
to state control because of the irnpor-
tance of preserving public service from
Home rule would not mean the libera¬
tion of the city to do as it chose regard¬
ing education. Education is everywhere
regarded as a State function to be car¬
ried on under State supervision and
Home rule would not mean the free¬
dom of the city to regard or disregard
State laws which the local police are
called upon to enforce. The city must
always continue to serve as an agent of
the State in exercising police powers if
tlie State chooses, and home rule would
not negative this responsibility.
Could Frame City Charter.
Briefl3- these added elements of self-
government would be granted by the
liberation of the city from State control.
Home rule would give to the electorate
of the city of New York power to frame
the city charter and to commit to elec¬
tive officials certain authority to amend
specific provisions of the charter, or to
govern the internal organization of city
Home rule would give to the people
of the city power on referendum to en¬
gage in any great public service activity
such as ownership and operation of a
utility—a bus line, lighting plants, sub¬
ways or ferries. Generally, such power
is restricted to specifically named utili¬
ties, and in the opinion of those who
have studied the question it should
always be controlled by the requirement
of submission for public approval.
City Free from Some Burdens.
Home rule would clearly impress upon
tlie State the unwisdom of imposing
upon the city mandatory charges in re¬
spect of local functions. It would auto¬
matically release the citv from the bur¬
densome and interfering State regula¬
tions in re.gard to local affairs.
Home rule would increase responsi¬
bility on the part of the local electorate
and officials for the character of govern¬
ment, because it would remove the op-
jiortunity for placing blame upon the
legislature for unsatisfactory conditions,