Monday, August 27, 2007

Conversations on Nonpartisan Elections


Steve Rankin said...

Probably 80% of U. S. municipalities have nonpartisan elections. Recently-- in 2003, I believe-- Chicago changed to nonpartisan elections.

California has had nonpartisan municipal and county elections for almost 100 years. The Los Angeles mayoral runoffs usually feature two Democrats, whereas San Diego has had several mayoral runoffs between two Republicans. The last San Francisco mayoral runoff was a Democrat vs. a Green, with the Green getting 40%-plus of the vote.

A few years ago, New York City had a ballot proposal-- pushed by Mayor Bloomberg-- to change to nonpartisan elections, but it lost, 70% to 30%. The political parties, of course, are strong in NYC.

Please give us your recollections of that campaign, Nancy.

N. Hanks said...

Great question, Steve. The formation by Mayor Bloomberg of a Charter Revision Commission--the only way other than a City Council ballot question, which was never going to happen, to get the issue on the ballot--to "study" (public hearings were held) nonpartisan municipal elections for New York City shortly after his election in partnership with the NYC Independence Party, which had been his margin of victory in 2001. It was a new shot in NYC to move beyond clubhouse politics and challenge the once progressive now stagnant reform (Democrat of course, because that's the party that rules NYC) movement in city politics. In spite of Mayor Bloomberg's best efforts (and remember, he was a novice at politics at that point) the commission he engaged did not release the issue to the ballot.

A new commission was put together the following year, the Commission did remand the issue to the ballot and the grassroots organizing took off. Lenora Fulani put together a "People's Coalition for Nonpartisan Elections" that enabled local insurgent Democrats and independent voters to come together in a valiant fight against the Dem machine in NY. The Dems went nuts! How dare you mess with our system, they cried.

Unions who have given their proxies to the Dems like 1199 paid their organizers on election day to go up against our community volunteers. My poll was in Parkchester, a primarily black housing complex of co-ops and apartments in the Bronx, that day. I remember their tactics as mostly bullying, not substantive. They had their machine, we had ours. They intimidated, they strutted; we organized, we performed possibilities. It was a battle of tactics.

There are nearly a million independent voters in New York City, who would stand to be empowered by this method of city elections that, as you say, exist in some 80% of major cities. The critical element in a new alliance of political forces would be the black community. New York City political status quo depends heavily on the willingness of black voters to tow the Dem line. The word on the street from the Dem clubs was that blacks would forfeit all the gains (for a handful of pols) that had been made by Dems for black empowerment. Fulani created a wedge that subsequently became the "Bloomberg on C" campaign and re-elected Bloomberg with 47% of the black vote going to the re-election of a nonpartisan Mayor in 2005. That coalition between independent voters and black voters still exists and is growing.

We lost the referendum in 2004 30-70%, an off-year election. But we gained a permanent foothold in the political landscape in New York. Victory doesn't always come in the form of winning a ballot proposition.

For an in-depth analysis of this campaign, see Jackie Salit's Unpopular Partnerships in the Neo-Independent.

Thanks again, Steve -- let's make this bigger!