This Tuesday, Sept. 10, the city begins its political dance with primaries to determine each party’s nominees for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough presidents and City Council seats.
But there’s a catch. Only registered members of a party can vote in the primary election—Democrats for Democrats, Republicans for Republicans, and so on. If you’re a registered voter not affiliated with a political party—or are registered with a third party—you cannot participate in either the Democratic or Republican primaries, the outcomes of which will have the most profound impact on the general election.
New York City is a “solid blue” city, with Democratic voters outnumbering Republican voters 6-to-1. All but one of the city’s Congressional seats are held by Democrats; just four Republicans sit in the City Council—and at least one Republican seat (that of the indicted Dan Halloran, who is not running for re-election) is in jeopardy of turning blue.
The ironic thing, however, is that a Republican or an independent politician has held Gracie Mansion for the past 20 years. Rudolph Giuliani defeated David Dinkins in 1993 to become the city’s first Republican mayor since Fiorello LaGuardia. Eight years later, Giuliani was succeeded by Michael Bloomberg, the Democrat-turned- Republican-turned-independent.
The race for mayor appears, on paper, to be wide open, with eight Democrats and three Republicans fighting for their parties’ respective nominations this Tuesday. But what about the races for public advocate and city comptroller?
Five Democrats are running for the party’s nomination to become public advocate; as of press time, there is no Republican nominee for the job as the city’s ombudsman. With just third-party opposition on the November ballot, it’s almost a certainty that the winner of Tuesday’s public advocate primary is going to win the general election.
It’s a situation found in many of the local City Council races, as the Republicans may not field a candidate in many of those contests in November. This makes Tuesday’s primary all the more important in which to participate.
But this is incredibly unhealthy for democracy in New York City, as The Big Apple appears to be becoming a one-horse political town. Holding exclusive primaries disenfranchises the nearly one million non-affiliated, registered voters who have every right to have a say in determining their new city government.
Even the option of changing political parties is unfair, as the city Board of Elections will only recognize your switch in the following year’s election cycle.
It’s time for New York City to abandon political primaries and opt instead for non-partisan, citywide elections open to all registered voters. Hold the contests in October with all qualified candidates for a public office on the ballot.
The candidate who gets 50 percent of the vote wins the election outright. In any race where a candidate does not hit the 50 percent mark, the top two vote-getters advance to a November runoff election that will ultimately decide the contest.
Not only will this make city elections more open and honest, but perhaps it will install in city government real leaders over partisan hacks. Too often, primaries tend to beget nominees more committed to toeing the party line than acting in the best interest of all voters.
New York City prides itself as a beacon of democracy. Moving to non-partisan primaries only makes our democracy stronger.