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January 19, 2022 FEATURED ARTICLE

CRSJ in Local Government

by Bobbi M. Bittker

Municipal government is often viewed as an insignificant governing body or a stepping stone to higher office– if people know you exist at all. I serve as a Councilperson in a suburb with a population of 18,000 residents, just north of NYC. Examining my work midway through my four-year term, it may surprise you that some accomplishments are relevant to CRSJ Section work.

State Courthouse

State Courthouse

Because my town had never addressed issues of Diversity, Equity or Inclusion either internally or externally, I spearheaded the creation of a committee to drive these initiatives. From this came our first-ever Juneteenth celebration, marshaled by black women residents. I initiated the Town’s first Pride Day Resolution and inaugural Pride flag-raising, which grew into a Pride weekend celebration supported by Town libraries and businesses in its second year. Residents are researching, recording, and publicizing the Native history of our town to accompany its well-documented Revolution-era history.

My town, a State leader in environmentalism, had not yet taken on climate justice. Our Board worked with state officials to advocate, and received a grant for public benefit legislation to support energy efficiency in buildings inhabited by low to moderate income renters. We’ve begun a Rental Building Performance Initiative to reduce emissions from rental buildings and to improve the air quality, health, and well-being of these renters by expanding our existing Landlord Registry law to identify buildings that are poorly performing from an energy and health perspective and add requirements to meet minimum performance criteria.

As a member of our unique Prison Relations Advisory Committee, (our town houses the only maximum-security women's prison in NYS), I formed and joined the Transgender Interests subcommittee who just submitted a proposal for a much-needed trans support group. I am also proud of my success in fighting for women’s pay parity and the hiring of a full-time senior advocate.

On my agenda for this year is designating American Rescue Plan Act funds for an inclusive playground so our children with special needs can play locally; developing a walkability/accessibility plan for seniors, people with disabilities, immigrants, youth, and other residents without cars; exploring access to broadband for low-income seniors, and re-examining our hiring practices to implement more equitable policies.

I can’t help but evangelize local government. Here is where these ideals take root. Or not. So please remember, a budget is a values document, and who you elect always matters. Consider getting involved in local campaigns and maybe even running for office yourself. Our Civil Rights and Social Justice work can be accomplished in unexpected spaces.


Bobbi M. Bittker

Civil Rights Attorney and Town Councilperson, Bedford, New York

Bobbi M. Bittker is an attorney focusing on civil rights advocacy and town councilperson in Bedford, New York. She is co-chair of the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice's Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee, sits on the New York State Bar Association  Committee on Civil Rights, and is a founding member of the Human Rights Campaign’s Project THRIVE.