The People Vs. Party Bosses
The People Vs. Party Bosses
by gerald R. Everett
When Michael Bloomberg met with our city leadership in 2001 to discuss getting the Independence Party’s ballot line for the mayoral election, he was somewhat bemused by the fact that we urged him to support a revision to the city’s charter that would provide for nonpartisan municipal elections. Such a reform, if successful, would have the effect of destroying the usefulness of our party line as a bargaining tool to extract post-election goodies from the successful candidates we had backed. When he asked if we were seriously asking him to back such a reform, one of our leaders shot back immediately: "Yes!" We were prepared to sacrifice our party’s "partisan advantage" if we could get something that would benefit the people of the city of New York. Mr. Bloomberg ran on our line, which brought him 60,000 votes in an election he won by only 40,000.
True to his word, Mayor Bloomberg appointed a Charter Revision Commission to study the proposal. After an open and democratic series of hearings, the Commission recommended that a proposal for a primary open to all voters and all candidates be placed on the ballot. It will appear as "Question 3: City Elections" in the lower right hand corner of the ballot in the November 2003 general election.
By opening up the first round of elections to all voters regardless of party affiliation, nonpartisan elections are clearly a vast improvement over the current, unfair system of party primaries. Currently, in the overwhelming majority of races and districts, the Democratic Party primaries are the only race that really counts. If a candidate wins the Democratic primary, history and statistics show that he or she will most likely win the general election by a landslide. Trouble is, more than 670,000 unaffiliated voters, and another 670,000 voters who are registered in a party other than the Democratic Party, are excluded entirely from voting in the Democratic primary. Think of it: one-third of the electorate is effectively shut out of the process of choosing who will run in the general election. Moreover, since the Democratic primary typically brings out only a tiny percentage of registered Democrats, the current process leads to a situation where a candidate will stand for election in November, with less than majority support from Democratic voters, and 0 percent of the vote from constituents who are unaffiliated or registered in parties other than the Democratic Party.
This woeful process played out in this fall’s primary elections: 7.9 percent of the voters of this city chose the next city council who will pass laws under which 100 percent of us must live. That is an outrage! No fair-minded New Yorker, whatever his party affiliation, can support the current system of party primaries.
So who is opposing Question 3? The Democratic Party bosses (though not necessarily ordinary Democratic Party members). The union bosses (though not necessarily the rank-and-file members). Some of the other minor parties, for instance, the Conservative Party (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party), and the Working Families Party (a spawn of the Democratic Party). Both these minor parties trade in influence and political patronage with the "major parties" and are joined to them at the hip. Nonpartisan elections are also opposed by New York City’s "good government" organizations. As shocking as it may seem, these groups have expressed satisfaction with the present political status quo in New York.
Given the level of institutions and parties aligned against Question 3, clearly we, the people, are the underdog. But then, this is nothing new. This is a good time to remember what John Adams wrote during the Revolution to an English friend who had asked whether the American colonies could win against England’s might. Adams wrote back "Sir, I can not assure you that we will win, but I can assure you that we will deserve to win."
Gerald R. Everett is Queens County chairman of the Independence Party.