Monday, February 22, 2010
Harry Kresky: Bloomberg Charter Revision Commission Should Address Nonpartisan Elections
The Hankster invited NYC attorney Harry Kresky to comment on the recent Citizens Union forum on the impending Charter Revision Commission.
With Mayor Bloomberg’s appointment of a new Charter Revision Commission imminent, good government types and others are focusing on what the agenda for a Commission should be. At a forum jointly sponsored by Baruch College and the Citizens Union on February 9th, the panel addressed such issues as strengthening the City Council, the Public Advocate and the Borough Presidents, and, of course, restoring a two term limit to elected officials. Baruch Professor Doug Muzzio presided over the panel which included Hofstra Law Professor Eric Lane, Former Comptroller William Thompson, Columbia Professor Esther Fuchs and Richmond County Clerk, Stephen J. Fiala.
Their presentations made no mention of non partisan municipal elections, an issue that was put to a referendum by the 2003 Charter Revision Commission and went down to a 3:1 defeat. Much has changed since then. Independents have grown and were the decisive factor in the recent round of federal, state and local elections. 150,000 of them voted on the Independence Party line to re-elect Michael Bloomberg as New York’s first independent Mayor. More than 40 percent of Americans now self-identify as independent. In New York City there are 758,997 voters who are not enrolled in any party. They are of course, barred from New York’s closed primary system. And in races for local office like City Council Member and Borough President, to be barred from the Democratic Party primary means to be be barred from the election that counts in all but a handful of competitive districts. There are some 1,405,636 voters who are not enrolled Democrats and cannot vote in that primary.
When the floor was open for questions, I asked the panel where they stood on the Commission again taking up the issue of non partisan elections. I asked how they can expect voters to consider giving more power to the highly partisan (and too often corrupt) City Council without changing how it is elected to a non partisan system. The panel did not address the issue directly. Muzzio said it couldn’t pass, look how badly it went down in 2003. Fiala said it was a good reform and he was open to revisiting it. Surely, New Yorkers are as fed up with partisanship as other Americans, and the Charter Commission process provides them with a chance to do something about it.