Kresky: Nonpartisan voting would make NYC elections fairer

A voter enters a polling station in a

A voter enters a polling station in a public school. (Credit: Getty Images)

Mayor Michael Bloomberg hit the nail on the head when he said that the scandal surrounding State Sen. Malcom Smith's effort to gain a spot on the Republican Party mayoral primary ballot is an argument for nonpartisan elections. According to the charges, GOP leaders took bribes to help Smith advance through the party's gateway.

As a Democrat, Smith needed clearance, yet even had he been a Republican, the support of party leaders would have increased his chance of success. Political parties wield huge power over the election process, and access to running in a party primary is a big part of that power. Getting a party nod has gone hand-in-glove with patronage and corruption for more than a century.

But if you eliminate the "gateway," then no "gatekeeper" can charge a candidate to pass through it. That's what nonpartisan municipal elections would do. The parties would lose control of their guaranteed ballot lines, increasing democracy and inclusion. The city's nearly 1 million voters who aren't registered to a major party, and so are barred from voting in primaries, could become full participants in municipal elections. That's why the Independence Party has been the city's most outspoken advocate for nonpartisan primaries.

New York City has a comprehensive -- some say model -- public funding program. But far from closing the door on corruption, the program increases the influence of the political parties, the primaries and the value of a major party line. It provides candidates with funding to run in a primary and, if they win, they get another dose of funding for the general election.

Invariably, this double dose goes only to Republicans and Democrats. An independent candidate who does not run in a primary only gets one round of funding. This hardly encourages competition. To the contrary: It encourages insider trading. Current efforts by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to expand the city's program to the state level are, at best, misguided.

Our closed party primaries make elected officials beholden to narrow ideologies and powerful special interests. And given the value of a party line under this system, it increases the possibilities for corruption.

It's time for every mayoral candidate to step up to the plate and support nonpartisan municipal elections.

Harry Kresky is general counsel to the New York City Independence Party and was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to serve on the 2002 New York City Charter Revision Commission.

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