Volume 73, Number 26 | Oct 29 -Nov 04, 2003


Not yet ready for nonpartisan elections

While there are some appealing aspects to the plan to change the city’s ballot system from primaries to nonpartisan elections, the process to write the ballot initiative has been so hurried that there has not been nearly enough time for the public to evaluate possible unintended consequences of the proposal. We recommend a No vote on this referendum next Tuesday.

We can envision a day when we may favor such a proposal, but not this year at this time. The initiative would allow all registered voters to vote in a primary-type citywide election in September leading to a two-person runoff in November. The proposal would affect races for mayor, borough president, city comptroller, public advocate and city councilmember.

Nonpartisan elections might very well increase voter turnout. In Chinatown, this might be the case, since voters tend to hesitate to register for a particular party. By one estimate, almost half of Asians registered to vote in Lower Manhattan are shut out of Democratic primaries because they aren’t registered in the party.

The current system rewards a certain level of dishonesty from voters and candidates. Some citizens register as Democrats, regardless of political philosophy, so they can vote in the primary elections in this overwhelmingly Democratic city. This gives them more power to pick their leaders.

So why are we against this proposal now?

The main proponents of this reform are Mayor Bloomberg and some marginal candidates. The charter commission itself seems to have become a political tool. Remember when Mayor Guiliani tried to ram a charter change through to keep Mark Green — the then-public advocate — from succeeding him as mayor if Guiliani stepped down to run for the U.S. Senate? This is the fifth charter commission in six years after the city has had only five in the previous 100 years.

The mayor, who is financing the effort personally, has been too quick to put this initiative on the ballot. Precisely how the city’s campaign finance law will work in the new system has not been clarified. The connection this proposal has to unsavory characters in the Independence Party also gives us reason to pause.

New York City has a model campaign finance law and term limits, two relatively recent developments that have helped to level the playing field and bring new blood into the political system. A radical change financed by a billionaire Republican may have unintended consequences, because there has not been enough dialogue on how the new law would work.

If the measure fails, Bloomberg might consider putting together a new charter commission to refine the proposal and allow time for numerous public meetings. Perhaps 2004, a presidential year with a higher turnout, could be a better time for voters to decide on nonpartisan elections.

The Villager recommends voting No on ballot question number 3 regarding city elections on Nov. 4.


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