A Good Time for Reform
by Anthony Stasi
Apr 18, 2013 | 11814 views | 0 0 comments | 489 489 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In any reform period of government, politicians are wise to avoid knee-jerk reactions. It's a common mistake in the private sector when something goes wrong once to change an entire process so management looks busy.

But government has proven just as, if not more, efficient in recent decades. If New York pols want to address corruption in Albany and in city government, it would be wise to tread lightly.

We cannot undo what has already happened, and the governor is right to suggest that this is a good time to address reform, including considering overturning the Wilson-Pakula law, which allows candidates to run on multiple party lines.

The Wilson-Pakula law is good for small parties, so they can cross-endorse with the major parties. Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long has indicated that the problem is with corrupt politicians, not with the ability to cross endorse candidates.

That may be true, but as it stands now, candidates have to court the Independence Party, the Conservative Party, and the Working Families Party as a way to avoid sharing votes with another like-minded candidate.

Long is right that repealing Wilson-Pakula will not stamp out corruption, and he is also right about nixing the pensions of politicians found guilty of felony charges.

The politics of cross-endorsing, however, has made the electoral process a little murky. This cajoling to get on multiple lines becomes an invisible primary, where the electorate is not involved.

Repealing the Wilson-Pakula law should come with some amendments. In other words, if the Conservative Party chooses not to run a candidate, or someone drops out, they do not risk losing their spot on the ballot in the following year.

This would avoid them scrambling to get votes for ballot placement. Their registration numbers should keep them on the ballot. The same thing would benefit the Working Families Party.

Another possible fix is to allow candidates to run on multiple lines, without the ability to add the votes together at the end. Robert Hornak of the Queens County GOP supports this idea (his opinion, not necessarily the party’s sentiment).

This means the law stays put pretty much the way it is, but there is no combining of votes in the end. If a candidate is willing to split his or her own votes, you might want to elect someone else.

The city also needs to consider the notion of nonpartisan elections for City Council and other citywide races. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s nonpartisan election bill got voted down in 2003, but that was a bad year for a ballot issue.

Here is a way to put it back on the ballot: if a district or city has a total number of independent voters (those not in a party at all) that is greater than 20 percent, then the system automatically defaults to a nonpartisan system. If that number is 20 percent or below, the current party system remains in place.

This makes politicians accountable for building their party. If they want the closed primary system to exist, they have to work to grow their parties. This puts responsibility in the hands of the elected.

New York City has roughly 826,000 voters who are not enrolled in any party. That means that 17 percent of the electorate has no choice in the primary process. If that figure climbs to 21 percent, the system should default to a nonpartisan system, where candidates compete in an open primary and the top two finishers face off in the general election – no matter what their party allegiance might be.

If the various political parties cannot keep the interest of more than 80 percent of the electorate, it might be time to give the system back to the voters. If we did not have nonpartisan special elections, we would not have some of the more popular incumbents. Would Councilman Eric Ulrich have won his initial race if it was not open to all voters?

We get more pragmatic candidates when we open up the system, and we need pragmatists when we talk about fixing schools, overhauling the tax system or adding police officers.

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