Thursday, November 18, 2021

Renewed Call For Nonpartisan Elections in NYC

After another Low Turnout, Uncompetitive Mayoral Election, we hear of Renewed Calls for Nonpartisan Elections. When Mayor Michael Bloomberg put the Prospect of Nonpartisan or "Open" Primary Elections before Voters in 2003, I worked on that Campaign, the next Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, was a Vocal Supporter.

This year, when Adams narrowly Won the Democratic Ranked-Choice-Voting (RCV) Primary and, in part thanks to Democrats' overwhelming Voter Enrollment Advantage, sailed to Victory in the General Election, he's been much Quieter on the Topic. "It is in fact an opportunity to open up the electoral process so all New Yorkers could participate," he said in a Statement to the New York City Campaign Finance Board, acting as the Co-Founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, a Police Reform Group. "Our system of elections cannot continue to lock out legal registrants who decided that they do not want to be affiliated with any party, but rather want to vote based on the issues." Today, he No Longer Supports it.

When asked in a Questionnaire from Good Government Group, Citizens Union, this spring, Adams said he Opposed getting Rid of the Current Party Primary System, in favor of a Single Primary Open to All Registered Voters, where the Top Two Vote-Getters would Advance to the General Election. "No, I support the political party system in NYC," he wrote in the Questionnaire. I think another Option is to allow Independents to Vote in the Primaries.

Proponents say Nonpartisan Primaries would: Increase Competition in Primary and General Elections; and Force Candidates, especially the Democrats, favored to Win, to Reach beyond their Base. The Proposal gets Bandied about after each Blowout or Low-Turnout Election, like this year's General, which was both.

For the last Three post-Bloomberg Mayoral Elections, traditional Wisdom has held, that the Winner of the Democratic Primary will Win the General Election, and that’s what has happened each time by a Wide Margin. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly Seven-to-One, and the Share of Republican Elected Officials in New York City, has over the years dwindled to a very Small Number. The latest Election this fall was No exception, with Adams beating Republican Curtis Sliwa by more than 37 Percentage Points. And while Republicans are poised to pick up 5 City Council Seats, out of 51 Seats, they are still without any Significant Power in City Government.

Now, a Number of Members of New York's Political Class and Media, have again begun Publicly Contemplating ways to Incorporate the Active Voters: 3,361,493 Democrats, 493,461 Republicans, 139,972 other Party Members, and 954,460 Independents, into more Meaningful, Competitive Elections, that also attract Higher Percentages of Democratic Voters. Even the Highly-Competitive Democratic Primaries, for Mayor, tend to see Turnout of roughly 25%.

"As a good Democrat I was firmly opposed to nonpartisan elections in 2003. I was just wrong. You have to want as many people to vote as possible in the decisive election," wrote David Yassky, a former City Council Member.

Close General Elections for Mayor have been in Decline for the past Decade, since Bloomberg narrowly Won a Third Term, spending Record Sums of his Fortune and a Strong Independent Vote, to do so. In the 2017 Race between Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and Nominee Nicole Malliotakis (R), de Blasio Won with similar Margins as Adams. Four years earlier, he beat Joe Lhota (R) with close to 3/4th of the Vote for the Open Seat left by Bloomberg.

Columns in the Daily News and Bloomberg have recently Advocated, in Favor of Scrapping the Current System for a Nonpartisan Model. "It’s also rotten that registered Democrats effectively determine who holds power here so that most New Yorkers have no real vote, and those who do aren’t representative of the larger city," wrote Harry Siegel in the News.

Andrew Yang, once a Front-Runner for the Democratic Nomination for Mayor in this year’s Election, has since Renounced his Former Party and launched a New one, the Forward Party, which includes Nonpartisan Primaries, and RCV at a Meeting I attended, as some of its Central Goals. While some saw the move as an attempt to Sell his New Book, his Sentiments echoed those of some of his Critics like Siegel and Adams.

In Big Cities across the US, Partisan Municipal Elections, like New York's are more the Exception than the Rule. Seven of the Ten Largest U.S. Cities, have some Form of Nonpartisan Elections including: Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, and San Antonio, based on a List compiled by National League of Cities. "This is not some kind of new-fangled experiment. This is just the norm at the city-level," said John Opdycke, President of Open Primaries, a National Organization Advocating for Nonpartisan Primaries. These heavily Democratic Cities often wind up with Two Democrats Competing in the General Election, as was just seen in the Boston Race that ran somewhat Parallel to New York’s this year.

"If you had a nonpartisan system...every election in the city would be competitive -- the general election, instantly, overnight," Opdyck said. "Here we are spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money funding candidates that are running either unopposed or against a phantom opponent."

According to, 21 States have some Form of Open Primary System for State and Congressional Races.

The Last time New York City formally reckoned with the Question was in the 2003 Referendum, placed on the Ballot by a Commission appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Heavily Promoted by him. If it hadn't Lost with only a Third of Voters' Support, the Amendment would have created, a Top-Two System, in which the Two Highest Vote-Getters of an Open Primary, would Advance to the General Election. I would rather see a Top-Four Primary with a RCV General Election or a Top-Four RCV Primary and a General Election.

Bloomberg also wrote a Statement of Support in the Campaign Finance Board Voter Guide, as did former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and J. Phillip Thompson, currently de Blasio's Deputy Mayor in Charge of Democracy Initiatives, who worked in the Dinkins Administration and was a Political Scientist at MIT, at the time.

The Referendum, held in an Off-year Election, was the most Heatedly Debated Issue of the Election Cycle with Strong Opposition from the Democratic Establishment and Labor Unions. Opponents suggested that Removing the Party Infrastructure from Primaries would Advantage well-funded Candidates and harm Voters of Color. Many felt it amounted to a Power Grab by Bloomberg, a Democrat, turned-Republican, turned-Independent, then a Democrat once again.

"In contrast to the opposition propaganda, a non-partisan election process is not an attempt to disenfranchise minorities or any particular party," wrote Adams, set now to become the city’s second Black Mayor, in the 2003 Voter Guide. Unaffiliated Voters "cross all demographics," he wrote and Lamented the fact that they Cannot Sign Ballot Petitions or Vote in Primaries. "Please do not believe that this population of 'non-party affiliates' are a Group of Fringe New Yorkers. They are your friends and neighbors," he said.

This year was the First New York City Mayoral Primary to use RCV, a System Voters approved in 2019 for Party Primaries and Special Elections for City Government Positions. Adams won the 13-way Democratic Race, ultimately Defeating former Sanitation Commissioner, Kathryn Garcia, by just 7,000 Votes, with Strong Support from Labor and a Parade of Political Establishment Figures.

Amid renewed Buzz about Nonpartisan Elections just ahead of Election Day this year, when the Result seemed Pre-Determined and there was Limited apparent Public Interest in the Mayoral Race, Mayor de Blasio was asked about the Idea at a News Conference. He said he was Opposed to Opening-Up Party Primaries and Shifting to the Top-Two System.

"I think the current system is a good system, and no, I do not think we should change it," he said. "I believe the problem with the nonpartisan model around the country is it's very susceptible to the impact of big money." De Blasio added that the City's Closed Primary System and Generous Campaign Finance Program was "much more friendly to the voices of working people and everyday New Yorkers."

Citizens Union, the Government Reform Group, Opposed the Referendum in 2003, but for the last 11 years has Supported a shift to Nonpartisan Elections and has been asking Municipal Candidates their Position on the Matter in its Questionnaires for the last Decade.

"We've been asking candidates for office ever since about their position on open elections, and you would be surprised at how many of them support it - including candidates who received party support," said Ben Weinberg, Citizens Union's Policy Director.

This year, of the Seven Mayoral Candidates the Organization interviewed in the Democratic Primary, only City Comptroller, Scott Stringer (D) and Art Chang, a former Banker and Campaign Finance Board Member, Supported moving to Open Primaries. Mayor Candidate, Sliwa (R), also said he Supported it. Of the other Candidates who returned Questionnaires, Adams and Garcia were Opposed, as were Civil Rights Lawyer, Maya Wiley, former Federal Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan, and Investment Banker Ray McGuire.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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