Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997.

In the politics of immigration, New York City might just be the anti-Arizona.

Two years ago, the Grand Canyon state famously changed its laws to spur the pursuit of undocumented immigrants. But here, a proposal that's showing strength in the City Council would allow legal noncitizen residents to vote in municipal elections.

The merits of the bill have drawn debate in the race to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has long opposed the move and declared doubts about its legality.

On Monday night, long shot candidate Sal Albanese drew a round of applause on the topic at a forum hosted by the Democratic Lawyers Council in Manhattan.

"If they're permanent residents, they should be allowed to vote in municipal elections," he said. "They pay taxes here, they've been living here. If they are permanent they are obviously not undocumented."

Comptroller John Liu, also in support, argued that early in the American republic, payment of taxes, not citizenship, qualified a person to vote. These days, he said, "it's not like the people who want to vote don't want to become citizens. If they could become citizens quicker they would do so."

Electoral calculation is involved. Liu and Albanese (born in Taiwan and Italy, respectively) are trying to gain some traction from what's widely considered the back of the pack in the Democratic primary -- a contest known to lean leftward.

Notably, those considered likelier prospects on the Democratic side have avoided bolting to the front of the parade on the voting issue.

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Ex-Comptroller Bill Thompson, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn -- whose house would have to act on the measure -- so far have shied away from declaring positions.

For the city's outnumbered Republicans, the proposal prompts alarms meant to rally the faithful and draw support from middle-of-the-roaders with whom it may not sit right.

GOP candidates Joseph Lhota, George McDonald and John Catsimatidis all have expressed opposition. Independence Party candidate Adolfo Carrion, who's been trying to nudge his way into a Republican primary by gaining party leaders' permission, was quoted as calling it "one of the dumbest things I've ever heard."

The proposal in current form would allow those "lawfully present in the United States" who have lived in the city for at least six months to vote in municipal elections.

Novel as it may sound, the concept has a history.


Nearly six years ago, Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer prompted a nationwide reaction from the GOP and among others by proposing to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver licenses. He shelved the plan in the face of political backlash.

Before that controversy broke out, his lieutenant governor, David A. Paterson, went before a breakfast kicking off the annual West Indian American Day Carnival Parade in Brooklyn and noted that 22 states once allowed permanent legal residents to vote.

In the city, noncitizen permanent residents were permitted to vote for elected school boards until the boards were abolished in 2002.

"Let's just remember that America used to be a land of opportunity. We can bring it back," Paterson said.

Spitzer distanced himself from the speech.