ACTIVIST Newsletter logo with ACTIVIST word displayed diagonally from bottom left to upper right
July 2005
by Alena Weller

Lobbyists, civic and non-profit groups, and everyday citizens can testify at most City Council hearings. Testimony helps the council members better understand the issue and it becomes part of the official record. The rules are simple: bring 30 copies of your written testimony; arrive a few minutes before the scheduled time; sign in with the Sergeant at Arms; wait your turn; present your view.

However, there are also unspoken rules about what works best. We asked a group of experts at City Hall to give their advice for those who testify at City Council.

"Try to make a human connection, as difficult as that may seem, with the council members." - Beatrice Lopez, Welfare Rights Initiative, Hunter College.

"Be funny. Keep it simple, short and sweet. Visuals are good" - Allison Wenger, Parks and Recreation

"It's like writing a newspaper story. Try to deal with the major points, who, what, when, and where. You don't want your punch line to be your last line." - John F. McHugh, Attorney

"The key is to leave them with something. You should express your opinion but be factual about the information you're supplying." - Beverly Fedorko, New York Shipping Association

"Testifying is important. It's the only time the city gets to hear from the public. Go in, speak your mind, and try to be as clear and concise as possible." - Rocco D'Angelo, Staff for Councilmember Sears

"Don't read your testimony. The most boring testimony is one that the administration gives and they read it word for word." - Dan Baylor, ACORN

"If people are not paying attention to you, say it out loud and embarrass them, because they should be listening." - David Greene, Hudson Guild of Manhattan

"Say whatever you believe in. You can do it as long as you have faith in yourself." - Giovana Rankin, Family United for Racial Economic Equality

"Don't be concerned if not all the council members are there, as long as the staff stays. The staff is important in helping frame the policy and issues." - Anita Marton, Legal Action Center

"If the meeting is supposed to start at 10 a.m., it will start no sooner than 10:30. Council members operate under a clock not used by other people. You know how Enron has fuzzy math? Well, we have fuzzy time." - Councilmember James Oddo