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New York Times Room for Debate


Follow California's Lead

June 27, 2012

By Fred Siegel

This past Saturday, The Times ran the obituary of Ed Costikyan, the last leader of the now long-defunct Tammany Hall. Costikyan had no brief for Tammany’s corruption but he warned that the loss of local political clubs tying Gotham’s neighborhoods to City Hall would lead to a collapse in political participation. He was right.

Between 1993 and 2009, the overall city population grew by one million, but one million fewer voters participated in the 2009 general election for mayor than cast ballots in 1993. Costikyan devised a variety of plans to decentralize city services and invite an increase in citizen involvement. But none came to fruition. Increasingly, the only people with any interest in city elections are public-sector workers, contractors and their families.

A possible solution to this problem, though one that the devout Democrat Ed Costikyan disapproved of, might be coming from California. In many ways California is a failed state, but its experiment with nonpartisan elections is worth close attention. As in New York, the huge exodus of the heavily private sector middle class has turned California into a one party-state, run by and for politically connected Democrats. By way of referendum, California adopted a plan in which the two top finishers in the nonpartisan primaries face off in the general election. In one-party New York — the council has 47 Democrats and four Republicans — the process usually ends in the Democratic Party primary, where as few as 6 percent of the registered voters pick the winner. The Democratic candidate then typically goes on to win the general election with very little opposition.

New Yorkers rejected a nonpartisan system when it was proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2004. Costikyan cheered the defeat but continued to worry about the loss of interest in voting. After we’ve had the chance to study the effects of a nonpartisan process on political participation in California, we may want to reconsider. The alternative will be the continuation of our current system in which, given the absence of public involvement, powerful real estate interests and public sector unions have turned government into their semiprivate fiefdoms.

Original Source:



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