Not yet ready for nonpartisan elections

There are indeed appealing aspects to the plan to change city’s ballot system from primaries to non-partisan elections, but 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, city comptroller, public advocate and city councilmember. It appears likely that this measure would increase voter turnout since under the new system, independent voters, third party members and Republicans, who often don’t have a primary in the heavily-Democratic city, would now be eligible to vote in the September primaries.

In Chinatown, the effect would likely be particularly beneficial because voters tend to hesitate to register for a particular party. By one estimate, 46 percent of the Asians who have registered to vote in Lower Manhattan are shut out of Democratic primaries because they have not registered to the party in overwhelmingly Democratic Manhattan.

The current system rewards a certain level of dishonesty from voters. Some citizens register as Democrats, regardless of political philosophy, to be eligible to vote in the primary elections. This gives them more power to pick their leaders.

Democratic Party officials have lined up solidly against this proposal, but we wonder why since they have lost three mayoral races in a row despite a large registration advantage. Could it be that the current primary system tends to produce candidates who have trouble appealing to the city as a whole?

So why are we against this proposal now?

Outside of Mayor Bloomberg and some marginal candidates, there is little groundswell for this proposal. 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 – who was then public advocate — from succeeding him as mayor if Guiliani stepped down to run for the U.S. Senate?

The mayor, who is financing the effort personally, has been too quick to put this 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 on Tuesday, Mayor Bloomberg might consider putting together a new charter commission to refine the proposals 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 if non-partisan elections are the way to go.

Downtown Express recommends voting No on ballot question number 3 regarding city elections on Nov. 4.

Gerson for Council

Councilmember Alan Gerson has done a good job looking out for all of the residents in his diverse district during his first two years in office. We expect to see even better things in a second term. Downtown Express endorses Alan Gerson for reelection to City Council.

Reader Services

Join our forums

Email our editor

View our previous issues

Report Distribution Problems