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Mayor de Blasio Appoints Commissioners to The Civic Engagement Commission

April 23, 2019

NEW YORK––Mayor Bill de Blasio today appointed eight commissioners to the New York City Civic Engagement Commission and named Dr. Sarah Sayeed as Chair and Executive Director of the Commission. Collectively, the newly appointed commissioners represent every borough and have a range of experience engaging and advocating for New Yorkers from all walks of life, including people with disabilities and immigrants. In addition to promoting civic trust and strengthening our democracy, the commissioners will be responsible for establishing a citywide participatory budgeting program, providing language interpretation services at poll sites and supporting community boards to help them be more effective and more representative of the communities they represent.

New Yorkers overwhelmingly voted to establish the Civic Engagement Commission in November of 2018. After a robust call to encourage New Yorkers to apply to the Commission, the City received more than 300 applications through the City’s open application process. Six of the eight Mayoral appointees were chosen through this process. The Commission will hold its first public meeting within the next 30 days and launch a listening tour across the five boroughs to hear directly from New Yorkers. The Commission also launched a new website where more information on their work, including the schedule of public meetings, will be available. The website can be accessed here.

“Our democracy begins in communities large and small, where people come together to tackle important issues in our city,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The Civic Engagement Commission will play a crucial role in strengthening this democracy, which is why our appointees have decades of experience elevating the voices of New Yorkers from all walks of life. I want to thank the Chair and Executive Director of the Civic Engagement Commission Dr. Sarah Sayeed and all commissioners for serving their fellow New Yorkers in their new role. I look forward to working with everyone to continue building a democracy that works for all.”

“New York City’s diversity is what makes this city a beacon of democracy and we must continue embracing that so everyone has a seat at the table,” said Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives Phillip Thompson. “The Civic Engagement Commission will help ensure that all New Yorkers are more involved in their communities and can play an active role in shaping the future of our city. I congratulate the distinguished commissioners on their appointments and look forward to partnering with them on this important work.”

“The work of democracy is our collective responsibility,” said Civic Engagement Chair and Executive Director Dr. Sarah Sayeed. “I am truly honored to work with Civic Engagement Commissioners, City agencies, and civic and community partners to build a more robust and vibrant civic life. The launch of this Commission represents an exciting opportunity for New York City to lead by example and become a national model of civic revival.”

“It is with great pleasure that I accept the appointment to serve on the Civic Engagement Commission to ensure the inclusion of immigrant New Yorkers and communities of color across the five boroughs,” said Civic Engagement Commissioner Murad Awawdeh. “The Commission is a great first step to enhance civic trust and engagement among New York's diverse communities, and I look forward to working with fellow members of the Commission to strengthen democracy in New York City.”

“Civic engagement allows each of us to build a bridge that will help strengthen the democratic process in New York City,” said Civic Engagement Commissioner Holly Bonner. “I am honored to serve as a mayoral appointee to this Commission. I look forward to working with the other members, non-profits and various agencies to help enhance civic participation amongst New Yorkers of all cultures and abilities.”

“I am excited by the Commission’s mandate and am eager to help shape its work,” said Civic Engagement Commissioner Amy Breedlove. “Given the times in which we live, and the size and diversity of our City, it is crucial that everyone be encouraged to engage in civic life. I am honored to serve the people and communities of New York City as a member of the Civic Engagement Commission.”

“I envision this Commission as a catalyst to ignite community awareness and involvement in ensuring New York City’s social equality,” said Civic Engagement Commissioner Donna Veronica Gill.

“I am so thankful to have been chosen to serve on the Civic Engagement Commission. I understand how important it is for individuals with disabilities to be engaged in their community whether it be through their local community boards or simply the process of voting,” said Civic Engagement Commissioner Jose Hernandez. “I hope through the Commission we will increase the civic engagement of the disabled population in New York City.”

“We need public participation in order to create policies and legislation that impact people living in this City, whether it’s related to our schools, social services, transportation services or other areas affecting our daily quality of life,” said Civic Engagement Commissioner Linda Lee. “I look forward to working with our local communities to help them see how they can collectively and individually make their voices heard.”

“Every New Yorker should know how, when and where she can influence the decisions that impact her life and her community,” said Civic Engagement Commissioner Annetta Seecharran. “I'm deeply committed to ensuring that this Commission builds pathways and removes barriers to increase the civic participation of all New Yorkers. I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners to ensure this becomes a reality.”

Dr. Sarah Sayeed, Chair and Executive Director of the Civic Engagement Commission, is a Bronx resident and has been dedicated to building an inclusive public square for almost two decades. For the past three and a half years, Sayeed has been a Senior Advisor in the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, where she has strengthened the civic engagement of a diverse, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual Muslim constituency. Prior to this, she worked for over seven years at the Interfaith Center of New York, bringing together New York’s diverse grassroots religious leaders with secular and city agencies, and implementing an extended collaboration between Catholic and Muslim social service providers. Sayeed also taught Communications to graduates and undergraduates at Baruch’s School of Public Affairs for five years. Through her years of volunteer work with diverse Muslim organizations, including Women in Islam, Inc., she has been an avid promoter of interfaith relations and Muslim women’s public engagement. Sarah holds a B.A. in Sociology and Near East Studies from Princeton University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Communications from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. She also holds a certificate in Reconciliation Leadership through the Institute for Global Leadership and is an alumna of the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute (AMCLI) Fellows program.

Murad Awawdeh is a Brooklyn resident and Muslim-American son of immigrants. He is the Vice President of Advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition where he oversees the community, member, civic and political engagement departments. In addition, Awawdeh also serves as the Political Director for the New York State Immigrant Action Fund. Awawdeh is the President of Yalla Brooklyn, which is an organization committed in engaging Arabs and Muslims in the electoral process. He also is the President Emeritus of the Muslim Democratic Club of NY, the Chair of the Immigration Committee for Justice 2020 Initiative, and is a board trustee of New York University Family Health Centers.

Holly Bonner is a Staten Island resident who is legally blind and the founder of Blind Motherhood. Bonner founded an online blog, Blind Motherhood, which is dedicated to proving that blind and visually impaired parents execute their parental duties independently, effectively and safely. In addition to her online blog, Bonner also is a contributor to NBC’s TODAY Show as a Parenting Columnist, Coordinator of the American Foundation for the Blind’s ‘Blind Parenting Series’, an Adjunct Psychology Professor at Metropolitan College of New York, and the Staten Island Borough Coordinator for VISIONS Services for the Blind & Visually Impaired. Bonner received a Master’s of Social Work from Colombia University School of Social Work and is a candidate for a Doctorate in Ministry at New York Theological Seminary.

Amy Breedlove is a Brooklyn resident, self-identifying member of the LGBTQ community and a Business Strategist at Urban Quotient. She’s a consultant to various architectural and design firms and also serves as the President of the Cobble Hill Association. Breedlove is a board member, treasurer and Chair of the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee of Stonewall Community Development Corporation, an organization focused on developing affordable and supportive housing for LGBTQ seniors. She received degrees from the University of the Arts in Pennsylvania, Rutgers University in New Jersey, and ESSEC Business School in France.

Donna Veronica Gill is a resident of Manhattan and a Higher Education Officer at Hunter Bellevue School of Nursing. Gill also advises the New York State Youth Leadership Council, which works with immigrant youth through various programs including leadership development and educational advancement, on Higher Education and educational funding. Gill is lifelong resident of Harlem, a member of Community Board 10, and volunteers with CUNY’s Citizenship Now program, which helps immigrants complete applications for citizenship, DACA, TPS and other programs. Gill received her Degree in Higher Education Administration from Baruch College.

José Hernandez is a Bronx resident, paraplegic and is the President of United Spinal Association’s New York City chapter. Hernandez became paralyzed when he was a teenager and works closely with disability rights groups. He volunteered with the Wheels of Progress Inc., served on the organization’s advisory board and helped them redesign and maintain both their website and social media. Hernandez previously worked as the Communications Coordinator for Concepts of Independence. He received his bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University.

Linda Lee is a Queens resident and the Executive Director of the Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc. (KCS). Linda started at KCS in 2009, is a member of Community Board 11 in Queens, was a recent board member for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City, is part of the leadership team at New Vision Covenant Church, and is a National Advisory Committee member of NYU's Center for the Study of Asian American Health. Linda has been recognized as a recipient of the Stars Under 40 Award from Schneps Communications and 40Under40 Award as a rising star from NY Nonprofit Media. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from Barnard College, and Master’s Degree in Social Work from Columbia University.

Annetta Seecharran is a Queens resident, non-profit leader and is the Executive Director of Chhaya CDC. Before joining Chhaya CDC, Seecharran was the Director for Policy and Advocacy for United Neighborhood Houses, a Program Director for International Youth Foundation, and Executive Director of South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!). She is a current and former member of several local and national boards, including Chayya CDC, and a founding member of New York State Immigration Action Fund. Seecharran received degrees in non-profit management from both Harvard Business School and Colombia Business School.

In November 2018, New York City voters overwhelmingly approved three ballot initiatives proposed by the 2018 Charter Revision Commission, which included campaign finance reform, community board term limits and the establishment of the Civic Engagement Commission. The Commission will be responsible for enhancing civic participation, promoting civic trust and strengthening democracy in New York City. The Commission will have 15 commissioners. Eight are appoint by the Mayor, two by the City Council and one by each Borough President. Initially, three Mayoral appointees (Gill, Breedlove and Lee) will serve two-year terms; four Mayoral appointees (Awawdeh, Bonner, Hernandez and Seecharran) will serve four-year terms; Borough President appointees will serve three-year terms; one City Council appointee will serve a two-year term and one will serve a four-year term. After the initial terms, all future appointments to the Commission will be for four-year terms.

Brett Eisenberg, the Executive Director at the Bronx Independent Living Services, said, “The Civic Engagement Commission is vital to all New York City residents to have our voices heard. We believe firmly that individuals with disabilities need to be involved in all facets of government and it is the only way to ensure the rights and issues we hold dear as individuals with disabilities are heard. We commend everyone involved in ensuring that individuals with disabilities will be involved in this important work and as an agency we look forward to assisting in any way that we can.”

"YVote and Next Generation Politics are thrilled to welcome incoming members of NYC'S ground-breaking Civic Engagement Commission. We were heartened by the passage of the ballot proposal in November, demonstrating the depth of civic appetite in our city and desire for a citywide body committed to developing strategies for improving civic life. As the leader of youth civic engagement initiatives that support diverse groups of teens in participating in civil discourse across various divides and in promoting youth voting and engagement with electoral politics, we look forward to partnering with this extraordinary group of civic-minded leaders to expand opportunities for young people in our city,” said Sanda Balaban, Director of YVote and Next Generation Politics.

“Our democracy only functions if regular people are able to meaningfully participate in civic life. NYC’s civic engagement commission is a crucial step in ensuring that New Yorkers, and especially historically marginalized New Yorkers, have a voice in our City. We look forward to working with the commission to put regular New Yorkers at the forefront of our democracy,” said Theo Oshiro, Deputy Director of Make the Road NY.

"We are thrilled to see that The Civic Engagement Commission will become a reality this year. At a time when public trust in government institutions, especially amongst our immigrant communities, may be at an all-time low, the Commission promises a way to increase civic trust and strengthen democracy in New York City," said Steve Choi, Executive Director of New York Immigration Coalition.

“We are thrilled to work with the newly appointed Commissioners of the New York City Civic Engagement Commission, especially to expand democracy for young people in New York City. From the New York City Young Women’s Initiative to supporting the New York City Council in their most recent cycle of participatory budgeting, we continue to work with our partners in government to ensure that young people of color in particular are substantively shaping the future of our city,” said Joanne N. Smith, President & CEO of Girls for Gender Equity.

“People with disabilities had to sue to win access to polling sites in New York City, but the decision to name three people from our community on the 15-member Civic Engagement Commission shows that the Mayor and Council are serious about increasing our participation in the civic life of our city,” said Joe Rappaport, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Center for Independent Living.

"Congratulations Chair Dr. Sayeed and fellow commissioners for being appointed to NYC's inaugural Civic Engagement Commission," said Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director of BetaNYC. "For the last few years, we have documented digital and data opportunities within the city's community boards and civic engagement practices. We are exponentially excited to see this commission's wisdom, and look forward to supporting its efforts in enchaining our municipal democracy. Together, pa'lante!"

"Participatory Budgeting proves that you’re never too young for democracy and civic engagement. I’m excited to see PB empower even more people residents of all ages in making the decisions that directly impact their lives, as it expands to a citywide process through the new Civic Engagement Commission. We look forward to seeing the Civic Engagement Commission strengthen real democracy in NYC beyond elections,” said Josh Lerner, Co-Executive Director of the Participatory Budgeting Project.

“Congratulations to all the commissioners, many who are tried-and-true advocates for our city and have worked alongside the Asian American Federation to protect the most vulnerable in our community. They have an exciting mandate to engage our city’s residents to become more civically engaged. From the native-born to newcomers among us, we are all vested in the success of New York City, and by creating processes to give voice to everyday residents, we will create more avenues for New Yorkers to shape and influence the policies and programs that impact them,” said Jo-ann Yoo, Executive Director of the Asian American Federation.

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