Politicians in this city pay lip service to democracy, but in fact New York simply does not have competitive elections. In many City Council and State Legislative districts, Democrats run without real opposition; in some districts, the Republicans don’t even bother to field candidates. Democrats outnumber Republicans by five to one in New York, and the paucity of
non-Democratic officeholders should remind us that the party functions as a virtual monopoly. And, as with so many other monopolies, unchecked power breeds corruption, laziness and cronyism.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who won as a Republican in 2001, would like to change the way New York elects its municipal leaders. He wants to follow the example of many other cities in making New York’s elections nonpartisan, and is supporting a ballot question this fall to make that change. In other words, he wants to take elections away from the hacks who control the Democratic Party and open up the process to anybody.
Only in New York would such an idea seem controversial. To judge by the reaction of Democratic Party minions, labor-union bosses and other vested interests, you’d think the Mayor was a wild-eyed revolutionary. Well, maybe he is. And maybe that’s exactly what the city needs.
Too many elections for City Council are decided not on Election Day but in Democratic Party primaries or, even worse, in the political clubhouses. Generations of hacks have refined the system so that outsiders-be they Republicans, dissenting Democrats or minor-party candidates -stand little chance of winning. Because local campaigns generate scant attention in the press, voters go to the polls and simply pull the lever for the Democratic candidate. Any resemblance between New York’s municipal elections and those in the former Soviet Union is strictly intentional.
Mayor Bloomberg wants to expand on an idea that is already in place. When there’s a vacancy on the City Council, the special election called to choose a replacement is conducted on a nonpartisan basis. Mr. Bloomberg believes the special elections are a model to follow.
It’s a terrific idea, as is obvious by the opposition it has generated from the entrenched political classes. Their hysteria is a sure sign that Mr. Bloomberg has struck a nerve. They know their influence will wane if the Mayor has his way. Critics, including some at The New York Times , find fault with the Mayor for spending his own money to persuade voters to adopt the plan. That’s ridiculous. The city’s labor unions, you can be sure, are sparing no expense to block the plan. Why shouldn’t the Mayor spend his own money on a cause he believes in? The Times got worked up because the Mayor didn’t have his name on flyers in support of the plan. It’s nice to see that some folks understand the big picture.
Corruption and apathy are rotting New York’s body politic. Voter turnout is low because voters are smart enough to know that professional politicos have hijacked the electoral process. Mr. Bloomberg wants to give politics back to the voters. He deserves the voters’ support.
Bloomberg, Speyer and KravisSend a Signal to Congress
Politicians from around the country love to come to New York City to fatten their wallets, and with good reason: During the 2000 and 2002 elections, New Yorkers gave $153 million to federal candidates and the national parties. (Los Angeles residents gave about half that, or $82 million.) New York’s magnetism isn’t hard to understand. Major corporations are headquartered here; we have an active and informed citizenry that cares about public policies; and there’s a concentration of enormous wealth.
Less clear is whether New Yorkers are getting their money’s worth. Indeed, if all the politicians who pass through town to collect checks actually followed up by using their influence for the good of the city, it’s unlikely that New York City would be in the position of sending about $8 billion more a year to Washington, D.C., than we get back in services and funding. The state’s numbers are equally discouraging: For every New York tax dollar that ends up in Washington, the state gets back 85 cents in aid.
Fortunately, Michael Bloomberg is a Mayor who can read a balance sheet, and he and the business group Partnership for New York City recently announced the creation of a service, called N.Y.C. Counts, that will keep track of any politician headed to New York for fund-raising and provide potential donors with advance information about that politician’s voting record as it has impacted the city. The Mayor gave the example of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay: A Wall Street broker, say, might be less eager to write a check to the Congressman if he or she knew that Mr. DeLay had made a proposal that would cost the city $300 million in transportation aid. That same donor might rather give to a politician whose votes have been favorable to the city’s priorities of public education, housing for the homeless, low crime, clean streets, homeland security and other local needs.
With the nation’s economy shaky, it is essential that New York not fall further off Washington’s radar. As Jerry Speyer, co-chair of Partnership for New York City, said, “We need ‘all hands on deck,’ working together in support of the city’s federal agenda.” The partnership’s other co-chair, Henry Kravis, made the point that New York’s influence extends beyond the five boroughs: “New York City businesses have employees and operations in states throughout the country, where we have connections to non–New York members of Congress. We have the access and opportunity to educate them about the importance of our city to the national economy.”
For too long, city residents and corporate leaders have given money to candidates and politicians without being aware that these contributions may be supporting policies destructive to the city’s long-term well-being. The Mayor and the Partnership for New York are to be commended for bringing accountability and transparency to the fund-raising table.
Third World U.S.A.
These days, any bit of economic good news-investor confidence rises!-is trumpeted as a sure sign that the economy is coming back, that George W. Bush isn’t such a clumsy President after all, that happy days will soon be here again. But such sentiments don’t stand up to scrutiny: America’s economy today resembles that of Third World regions-Southeast Asia, South America-which endured currency crises in the
recent past. Analysts at Lehman Brothers, who have a system that predicts which countries are likely to enter financial chaos, have noted that the “most conspicuous of these threats is the United States.”
You don’t have to look far to find what’s causing these dark clouds. For starters, there’s the country’s massive budget deficit (larger relative to the economy than Argentina’s in 2000) and unwieldy trade deficit (larger relative to the economy than Indonesia’s in the 1990’s). Instead of confronting these problems, President Bush offers tax breaks and
A wiser President would be taking steps to correct the country’s perilous financial condition. If Mr. Bush’s policies are allowed to continue, the U.S. may enter a crisis brought on by a plunge in the dollar and a spike in interest rates. Borrowing won’t be so easy then, and Americans will pay the price for this President’s stunning incompetency.