Boosts Non-Partisan Election Issue
of my columns are spontaneous.
ferment. They sit in my head — week after week — and age and take
shape. They have a life of their own because everything is not crystal
clear to me. Sooner or later something happens. Sometimes the idea just
fades away and dies; sometimes the situation around the idea changes; at
other times, I sit down and start typing (keyboarding is the appropriate
term today) and see where it takes me.
column – the first of what I assume will be several on a proposal to
change the City Charter to hold non-partisan elections – arrived here
through a sudden change in situation and in all sincerity, I don’t know
where it’s going.
most of my subjects, my vision is not crystallized on whether New York
City should hold elections for Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller,
Borough President and City Council members in the present traditional
partisan manner or adopt a non-partisan election where party primaries
would play no role.
and Tribune Publisher
Michael Schenkler at the Tribune offices. Bloomberg has
just given new impetus to the non-partisan election proposal that
on this page.
until last week, I could have told you where and why this column would end
up — the conclusion was simple. Any proposal to modify elections to
benefit someone presently running for office should be rejected. And
although non-partisan elections might have been an idea whose time had
come, it was a plan introduced by a Republican Mayor, which would improve
his chances of reelection in a Democratic city.
I was intrigued by the idea — change to our tired system can be good —
and wanted to study it, but rejected it without study because the Mayor
who initiated the proposal and process stood to gain from it. The concept
of changing election rules to benefit one’s self is inherently an
don’t get me wrong. I was – and still am – one of the Mike Bloomberg
fans still left in the game. In a disastrous economic situation that was
not of his creation, I believe he has steered the City ship of state quite
well. I believe this political novice has played the game skillfully and
above all has sought the best solutions for our city immune from the
pressures of special interests and political parties that all too often
corrupt or dilute.
know I am in a minority at the moment. I also believe that the majority
judgment is unduly influenced by the economics of the moment and has not
considered the refreshing and positive changes Mayor Mike has brought to
our government and City. I hope the economy improves and Mike can be
judged by his overall performance.
all that being said, I was not ready to consider a proposal to change
election rules to improve his chances to be reelected. In a democracy, we
must seek a fair and level playing field. The guy (or guys or gals) in
office must not be allowed to modify the rules to help themselves — even
if they are your guys and gals.
must come before party — remember that!
too often do we see elected officials making decisions considering
what’s good for their party over what’s good for the people or system.
This has led to corruption and more often to the people’s distrust of
elected officials. Party politics frequently makes government ugly. Ask
any member of Congress, or just check recent accounts of partisan behavior
the State level, things are horrendous. Perpetuating each party’s
majority and each leaders power in the house they control has almost
displaced the purpose of government.
the City level, we have periodically witnessed corruption and scandal due
to the unchecked power of one party. The current scrutiny surrounding the
selection of judges by party bosses is the most recent example of
sacrificing good government for partisan motives at best, and corruption
system of government is wonderful. The two party system has served us
well. However, the system of government is more important than any
lifelong Democrat has seen his party lose its way on more than a couple of
occasions. Good citizens yell when that happens — they must. Party
members must keep party and elected officials focused on the true prize
— good government.
was and am ready to consider alternatives.
Mike Bloomberg proposed the alternative of non-partisan elections,
appointed the Commission to consider placing it on the ballot, and all the
while he would be the beneficiary of its passage.
way, no good!
that’s where I was at.
Thursday at a Charter revision commission hearing held at Queens Borough
Hall, Commission Chair Frank Macchiarola — a man of impeccable integrity
who has served the New York community in a variety of impressive positions
over the years — announced a significant twist in what was perceived as
the Mayor’s plan.
a matter of fact, Macchiarola released a letter from Mayor Bloomberg,
which has given the non-partisan election proposal real significant
impetus. The Mayor has removed himself and his reelection as a factor in
the non-partisan proposal. The Mayor, in a letter dated July 16, advocated
that the non-partisan election proposal move forward and be voted on at
the next election, but not be implemented until 2009...after he has been
term limited out of office.
abandoning any advantage from the change, wants to run for reelection
under the present rules and have the new rules in place for the following
election. He appears to be a man who is willing to sacrifice his own
personal gain to get an election change enacted that he believes will
benefit the system and the City.
alone gives us reason to evaluate the proposal. The Mayor’s move was the
only move that could have propelled the idea of non-partisan elections
into the clear light to be studied.
wonder if my party, the Democratic Party, has the same courage to abandon
consideration of what benefits them and evaluate the proposal on its merit
for the people of our City.
a recent interview with the Trib, Alan Gartner, executive
director of the Charter Revision Commission, discussed the Commission’s
desire to increase access to the election process and offer opportunity
for people who would normally not run to consider it, while also providing
greater accountability for both elected officials and party influence.
many ways our system is broken,” Gartner told the Trib. He
explained that fewer than a quarter of those eligible “actually vote”
and “except for a small handful” those who do vote do not turn out for
party Primary elections.
commission set out to see what the “50 largest cities” in the United
States were doing and found that “41 were conducting their elections for
Mayor and other positions by non-partisan elections.”
Gartner, who identified himself as being a quintessential New Yorker, this
writer was shocked at finding the percentage of large cities holding
non-partisan elections. Gartner told the Trib that if it
wasn’t done in New York, “I assumed, while interesting, it wasn’t
common.” In fact, of the top 10 largest cities in the US “all but New
York and Philadelphia” were holding non-partisan elections.
as a true New Yorker, he maintained that, “Just because they do it in
Sheboygan, doesn’t mean we should do it here.”
added that in looking at the other large cities, they found that political
parties “do everything they currently do” including organizing behind
a candidate and offering their support. But the change in the election
process would “eliminate the lock step.”
we learned from Gartner was conclusive. It merely emphasized the point
that there is an issue here worthy of evaluation. And now that the Mayor
has removed himself as a factor, we believe the debate should begin in
challenge the Democrats to participate intellectually.
We will, as soon as the ballot language is finalized, offer them
and other concerned parties (as in participants in the process, not
necessarily political parties) space on these pages to help educate our
readers on this important proposed change to our political process.
is not a decision that should be based on whether more Dems or fewer Dems
will win election. We should not judge this on self-interest but on how it
will impact the government, the process and history.
mind is open.
am, as I’ve stated before, a proponent of change.
this the change we should ratify?
believe the Macchiarola Charter Revision Commission will place this change
on the ballot.
believe we must have a healthy debate.
your mind open.
in the discussion.
what is right.
Mayor just did.
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@queenspress.com