Earlier this month in state Supreme Court, Brooklyn Democratic leader and New
York state assemblyman Clarence Norman faced charges of grand larceny and failing
to file business records.
The charges outline a series of alleged misdeeds by
the nine-term assemblyman, including failing to report thousands of dollars
in campaign contributions, and
accepting contributions in excess of the limits allowed by campaign finance
law. He is also accused of taking $5000 from the Democratic Party coffers for
use, and taking a per diem from the State of New York for travel expenses to
and from Albany, while separately billing the county Democratic Party for the
same travel related expenses.
Norman, who pled not guilty to all charges and
professes his innocence, faces seven years in prison if convicted.
of the Democratic Party boss came less than a month before New York City voters
are scheduled to go to the polls and decide whether or
replace the current citywide election system with a series of non-partisan
elections. Supporters of the non-partisan election system have suggested there
is a need
to reduce the influence of political party bosses in the voting process.
charges, if proven to be accurate, could be seen as an example of the need
to change the system. But a non-partisan election system, on its own,
reduce the influence of political parties in city government.
Here's a breakdown of what should, could, and will not change, depending on
the outcome of the November 4th elections:
What Should Change
The fact that someone can hold an elected government office
and be an elected party official simultaneously is more than an example of
the potential for
undue influence of a political party; it's an example of the potential for
conflicts of interest.
It is an apparent quirk in an otherwise stringent set
of financing and electioneering rules. But the body of legislation that encompasses
local, state, and federal
election law does not prohibit, in the City of New York, a person from holding
both a party office and an elected legislative or executive office at the same
The law does provide extensive rules for ensuring that elected legislators
don't do political work on taxpayer time, or for making sure that political
and party committees don't collude with campaigns to do their campaigning directly
for them. There are firewalls, and disclosure forms, and compliance standards,
all to make sure that the work of political parties, and the work of political
campaigns, and the work of governing, are all kept separate. As they should
But there is nothing preventing the people who are in charge of all those
things from actually being the same person. And that should change.
The non-partisan election proposal doesn't actually get rid of political
parties. It doesn't outlaw political parties, or take away their ability to
it just takes political party labels off of election ballots, and the nomination
process out of party hands. The people running for office could still be endorsed
by political parties, they could still receive the support of a party organization,
they could still be their party's "preferred choice" or standard
bearer. But without party primaries to officially determine the nominees, the
may not need the party the way they did in the past. They may still want the
party's help. They may still court the party members. But they won't need the
party. They can get along without the party, if they have to.
And when you go
from being the party that chooses the nominee, to the party who is allowed
to help the nominee, you've lost statutory authority. It doesn't
follow that you are going to lose influence as well. But it's a possibility.
Political parties are the single most important voting cue in New York City
right now. And that could change.
What Will Not Change
If the non-partisan election proposal passes, the law
will apply to all citywide elections for city offices. It will not apply
to those elected officials
who represent part of New York City in other levels of government:
â€˘ It will not apply to U.S. Congressmen and Congresswomen from New York
â€˘ It will not apply to state senators from New York City.
â€˘ It will not apply to members of the state assembly from New York
City (e.g., it would not apply to Clarence Norman).
And, if the non-partisan
proposal passes, it won't prohibit anyone who is a party leader or party
official from running for office in a non-partisan
Under the new law, the same person, in theory, could be a top party
official and be elected mayor of New York at the same time.
on November 4th, whether non-partisan elections are voted into law, or the
existing system stays in place, there are a
determine how much influence political parties hold in our election
system. And the party primary/party nomination is only one of those
Susan Reefer is a Republican pollster and media strategist. She is based in New York City.
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