Using a Database to Track NY Politicians

    by Amanda Hickman
    April 17, 2008

    A few weeks ago, I asked a question that I’m still chewing on: what good is all this data ? Sitting the programmers down with reporters is a great advance over abandoning them to some cold dark dungeon, but I think we’ve got a ways to go to come up with really smart uses of data and database driven content. So, here’s one idea: what about a database that tracks local representatives and their plans once they’ve been pushed out by term limits: the next election will see the first term-limits enforced turnover on New York’s City Council.

    Here’s what our City Hall reporter, Courtney Gross wrote about the database we built together:

    “Prepare for a mass exodus in New York City politics.

    “Thanks to the city’s term limits law — passed in a referendum in both 1993 and 1996 — more than two-thirds of the city’s elected officials will be forced out of City Hall in 2009. On top of that, the entire state legislature is up for re-election this November, creating a potential political stampede down Broadway.

    “To help voters wade through this political free-for-all , we devised a new feature: Who’s Running for What and political junkies can peruse it by name or position and keep an eye on confirmed candidates or those still mulling over a run over the next 20 months.

    “In an era where presidential races start the day after Inauguration Day, it becomes more imperative for engaged citizens to get a grasp on races early and get their updates often. That’s why Who’s Running For What keeps New Yorkers informed on their most local contests and on the newcomers who might be vying to represent them next.”

    Here is why I think it meets the worthwhile data test: it consolidates information that isn’t widely available elsewhere, it asks a real question (what will happen when term limits turn out three fourths of the council?) and it provides us with a way to consolidate new reporting in a place that readers can keep coming back to. It also lets readers look at local representatives with aspirations to boro or city-wide office and start getting to know them better now.


    Take a look, and let us know what you think. We’ll be adding to it as the campaign season progresses (we’re talking about a lot of 2009 elections here). We plan to tie it back to our own reporting as candidates’ plans emerge.

    P.S. We probably couldn’t have pulled this project off without the indispensable Basebuilder — a free and open source nugget of software that made it absurdly easy for me to set up an interface that makes sense to our reporters while making sure that our database is technologically sound.

    Tagged: basebuilder civic participation database elections new york city

    2 responses to “Using a Database to Track NY Politicians”

    1. Matt says:

      Great tool. Pictures would help, and as stated at the site, it will be that much stronger a tool when campaign-finance information, voting records, and contact information are added. The map for the “Who represents me?” is a great feature, but does it have to be a click away? Can’t help but applaud the ambition to pull together all the information out there in an easy-to-navigate, interesting format.

    2. Amanda says:

      Thanks Matt,

      The voting records *are* there, though it sounds like we didn’t quite make that obvious enough.

      You can also see the total of each candidate’s state and city campaign fund. We’ll keep you posted as we navigate linking straight to the campaign finance boards.


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