Voters rebuff nonpartisan scheme

NEW YORK – Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg sustained a major defeat on Election Day when the electorate overwhelmingly voted down the proposal for nonpartisan elections that he bankrolled.

Though the mayor said that nonpartisan elections, which would have eliminated party primaries, would make the city electoral process more democratic by eliminating the control of “party bosses,” opponents argued that it was a Republican Trojan horse – another attempt at a power grab along the lines of Florida in 2000, the recent recall in California, or the congressional redistricting in Texas.

In a city where voters overwhelmingly reject the Republican Party in City Council elections – of 51 councilors, only three are Republicans – opponents of the measure argued that the GOP could only gain control of the Council if its candidates were able to disguise themselves as nonpartisan. Opponents also pointed out that such a system would favor those who had money to buy widespread name recognition, giving them a distinct advantage over poor or working-class candidates with fewer resources.

Although the system would have disallowed party primaries, it would have allowed candidates, if they chose, to list a party affiliation. Those urging a “no” vote argued that it would be fundamentally undemocratic for a candidate to be able represent a political party without the party’s membership themselves making that determination in a primary.

The proposition, which appeared as Question 3 on the Nov. 4 ballot, was opposed by a broad, multiracial coalition involving most of the city’s labor unions, the Working Families Party, the Democratic Party, and grassroots community organizations – the same type of coalition that elected Annabel Palma in the Bronx and (minus the Democratic Party) WFP candidate Letitia James in Brooklyn.

Mayor Bloomberg poured over $2 million of his own money into advertising for a “yes” vote on the question. Many of the advertisements promoting the initiative, including glossy brochures and mass, pre-recorded phone messages, were condemned by its opponents as playing on racial divisions.

Although the loose coalition working for a “no” vote spent only a little over $400,000, about 20 percent of what the other side spent, the results of the referendum came back with 70 percent of the votes against Bloomberg’s plan. This can be attributed to the heavy grassroots mobilization against it organized by the Central Labor Council, individual unions, and Working Families Party volunteers.

“Trade unionists poured into the streets in yeomen-like fashion for a massive ‘Get-Out-The-Vote’ that translated into enormous victory,” the Central Labor Council said in a statement. “Congratulations and thanks to them all.”

According to a spokesperson for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees District Council 37, which represents 125,000 New York City public employees, “We had thousands of members out on the streets on Tuesday handing out palm cards in support of our candidates and our issues. We made tens of thousands of calls on our phone banks. We galvanized our members through our website, union newspaper, and at our Oct. 29th ‘Fair Contract Now’ rally at City Hall attended by over 20,000.”

Virtually all of the members of this coalition – the unions, the Working Families Party, and so on – have barely paused to celebrate their victory. Instead, they are already beginning to focus on the need to keep themselves mobilized and united for the 2004 elections.

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