On September 9, 2003, New York City will hold primary elections for city council
races, in order to nominate candidates for the general election to be held
in November. According to New York City election law, once every twenty years
city council members serve back-to-back two-year terms, instead of the normal
four-year terms. It is a provision that allows the city to incorporate the
latest census data into redistricting measures. In 2001, the city council members
all stood for a two-year term, and so they are returning this year for another
two-year term. Out of the 51 members of the city council, all of whom are up
for reelection, there are primaries in 26 of those districts. For details,
check out Gotham
Gazette’s Campaign 2003 , which is part of the Community Gazettes.
Most of the primaries are on the Democratic side, with the Democratic incumbent
challenged in his or her nomination for reelection. But there are two Republican
primaries. This is in and of itself unusual enough in a city where Republicans
represent roughly only 16 percent of all registered voters, but one of these
contests is close to unheard-of. Two candidates, Jennifer Arangio and Douglas
Winston are vying for the chance to unseat Democratic City Council Speaker
Gifford Miller. That either Republican hopeful would make that kind of history
is highly unlikely.
The primary election itself may soon be a part of history, depending on the
outcome of the November elections. The Charter Revision Commission recently
approved three measures to be placed on the November ballot. Two of the questions
deal with city government administration, and the third asks voters whether
the party primaries should be replaced with nonpartisan elections.
In one question, voters are asked to approve a measure that would simplify
the way the city handles the purchase of goods and services. It includes provisions
to expand opportunities for minority-owned and women-owned businesses, and
it seeks to streamline procedures for purchasing methods, while increasing
qualifications for city purchasing officials.
This question addresses the issue of mayoral authority in the governing of
administrative law judges and hearing officers in the city's administrative
tribunals. It would expand the authority of the administrative tribunal at
the Department of Consumer Affairs, and it would increase the authority of
the Conflicts of Interest Board.
This is by far the most controversial question and will be the most hotly contested.
The question is whether New York City should abolish party primaries and instead
hold nonpartisan elections, in which anyone can run and anyone can vote, regardless
of party enrollment or affiliation. The September primary would become an open
election in which all candidates run together, and the November election would
be the run-off between the top two candidates for each office. This would affect
all city elected offices, including mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough
president, and council members. If it is passed, it would not take effect until
after the 2005 elections, meaning none of the current elected officials would
be affected by it.
Voter turnout in primary elections is typically low, and this year will not
be an exception. But this year the primaries may take on special significance
as voters look ahead to the November elections, and a ballot question that
could potentially represent the biggest change in New York City elections in
over a century.
Susan Reefer is a Republican pollster and media strategist. She is based in New York City.
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