NEW YORK CIVIC: The People Say “Enough” By HENRY J. STERN

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Stern-Henry-J-NY-Civic-Pres and-Former-NYC-Parks-CommissionerVoters Term Limit Bloomberg to
Three
as They Did Koch, Cuomo and Pataki

It has
been some months since we last wrote about New York City's shifting political
tides. During that time, there have been a number of reversals of fortune with
regard to candidates and their prospects for reelection. There has been a
greater willingness by the public this year to turn the rascals out than there
was in the recent past. Reputations rise and fall. Reelection once appeared to
be perfunctory in New York's gerrymandered, machine controlled one-party
districts. That is no longer the case, but there is still a long way to go on
the road to fair and competitive elections.

The
Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark Federal law, was adopted a generation ago
to offset attempts to suppress the popular vote or create obstacles for those
who tried to vote. For many years this pattern of unofficial discrimination
kept minority voters from the polls, thus diluting their political influence.
In districts with substantial minority populations, election outcomes did not
necessarily reflect the will of the majority of the voters.

There
are no intentional extra-legal restraints to voting in New York City. The
relatively low percentage of citizen participation here has been prompted in
part by popular disillusionment with the political process. There is a
perception of the futility of reformers' efforts to change the existing
institutions which determine the size and shape of districts, often shaping the
electoral outcome to meet their political objectives.

The
reasons for dissatisfaction in the election process have morphed over the
years. In previous generations, it was election fraud, the sale of votes and a
misreading of the vote totals on the machines. Today, it comes from cronyism,
the establishment and growth of local political dynasties based on blood or
marriage. We read dreary accounts of investigations, arrests, trials and
convictions of elected officials for scandal, corruption, conflicts of interest
and sexual improprieties with staff or social media followers. All of these
have a negative effect on public regard for the political process.

At the
retirement or removal of a legislator or judge, his or her seat normally would
be passed along to a hand-picked successor. Usually those who owed their
political status, job and social networks to the machine were all too willing
to carry out their leader's agenda. This often consisted of bottling up
legislation of which they disapproved, as well as passing bills they liked.
Economic factors, to wit: bribes, also had a role on legislative results.

In north
Brooklyn, more than a year of news reports about the sins of local Assemblyman Vito
Lopez
, along with censure by Speaker Sheldon Silver, and denunciation by other
ambitious politicians culminated in Lopez's abrupt resignation from the
Assembly. This finally galvanized enough Democrats outside of his client blocs
to deny him re-entry into the local government.

Throughout
Brooklyn, voters assumed they ended the 24 year tenure of district attorney,
Charles J. Hynes. He had been criticized for protecting the identity of accused
child molesters and pursuing prosecutions based on false evidence collected by
unscrupulous investigators. Hynes is now running for election on the Republican
and Conservative lines despite a lifetime in politics as a Democrat. 

Across
the city the comeback bid of every politician seeking redemption by reelection
after sexual scandal was denied. Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, Vito Lopez and
Micah Kellner, all political powerhouses in their day, were victims of this
heightened scrutiny for indiscretions which years ago would not have resulted
in expulsion.

In a
reflection of general displeasure with local government, Democratic voters
displayed incumbent fatigue with Mayor Bloomberg by nominating the candidate
who ran stubbornly as his ideological opposite. Even though polls showed a
constituency generally favoring Mayor Bloomberg's initiatives and satisfied with
the changes in the city over the last twelve years, they, at the same time,
have grown tired of a mayor they believe to be increasingly tone-deaf to their
concerns and unsympathetic to them as individuals.

This
result should be not be a complete surprise. Mayor Ed Koch was defeated in the
Democratic primary in 1989 when he sought a fourth term and Governor Mario
Cuomo
was defeated by George Pataki for similar reasons when he sought a fourth
term in 1994. As Mayor Koch pointed out, “Every
show on Broadway opens and closes.”

This
election may also herald a return to political party patronage, which was
largely absent for the last twelve years. Mayor Bloomberg clearly saw the
parties as an obstacle to his style of governing which emphasized executive decision
making and nonpartisan appointments. He would use the political parties when he
needed them, preferring to rent their ballot lines rather than owning them.
After winning his last reelection in 2009 by a surprisingly narrow margin,
Bloomberg left all the parties behind and pursued an agenda based on his
principles for government citywide, nationally and globally.

Henry
J. Stern is the founder and president of
New York Civic.

 

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Hezi ArisNEW YORK CIVIC: The People Say “Enough” By HENRY J. STERN

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