News | Upper West Side

Website allows local politicians to answer questions from constituents

  • ASK ME A QUESTION | Mark Levine, a City Council member for District 7, is one of the local politicians answering questions from constituents on AskThem.io, which was launched by the Participatory Politics Foundation on Feb. 10.

Ever wanted to ask a question to an Upper West Side politician? Thanks to a new website, local residents can now do just that. 

Several local politicians have started answering constituents’ questions on AskThem.io, which was launched on Feb. 10 by the Participatory Politics Foundation to allow elected officials from congressmen to councilmembers to field questions from voters in their districts.

Rep. Jerry Nadler and City Council members Helen Rosenthal, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Mark Levine have all started using the site.

“I’m excited to use it as a tool for engaging people in the local government,” Rosenthal, who represents District 6, said in an interview.

The website chooses a specific signature threshold backing each question for the different politicians that use the site—any question that surpasses that threshold will be answered. Users can ask questions on the website, and vote to endorse other users’ questions on the site.

Levine and Rosenthal each have their thresholds set at 25 signatures, while Nadler—whose congressional district includes the Upper West Side—has his set at 350.

In a statement on its website, the Participatory Politics Foundation compared itself to the “White House’s ‘We The People’ petition platform, but for every elected official nationwide and anyone with a verified Twitter account.” We the People allows citizens to submit petitions to which the White House must reply if a petition reaches 100,000 signatures.

On Friday, Levine, a particularly active Twitter user, wrote to his around 1,800 followers: “Have a question about the district or recent council legislation? Ask me.” He added the hashtags “#parks #education #uptown,” perhaps suggesting some potential topics for his constituents to ask.

Levine has been asked three questions so far, including his priorities for his district this year and his plans for improving pedestrian safety on West 96th Street.  Rosenthal and Nadler have been asked two questions each. 

None of the questions asked to Levine, Rosenthal, and Nadler have reached the signature threshold needed to require a response yet.

Rosenthal said that the website is not the easiest way for a constituent to ask a question, but that it is something that could be helpful for finding out what people want to know.

“People can of course always call my office and ask a question or email me directly,” Rosenthal said. “What’s interesting about this is the crowdsourcing piece, to give an elected official sort of density or volume to a question.”

eva.kalikoff@columbiaspectator.com  |  @evakalikoff

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