By: Gary Tilzer
Until recently NYC had become a closed one-party city, controlled by incumbents, lobbyists, their clients, and unions. The lack of political competition and the collapse of the newspaper business has trained city residents not to expect opposition or debate on critical issues and real choices in elections, discouraging up to 80% of New Yorkers not to vote. This monopoly of the Democratic Party insider’s control of government and politics, created a strong unchecked powerful mayor, pay to play lobbyists who control the election system and City Hall, is beginning to be broken by recent developments in city politics.
De Blasio and the Working Families Party (WFP) were trying to turn the city left for the last 15 years, but were slowed down by several federal investigations. The recent victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), the anti-Independent Democratic Coalition, control of the State NY Senate in 2018 and the knocking off of long-time incumbents like Joe Lentol by left-wing candidates in 2020, opened the lanes for left-wing operatives to try to take over the city’s politics and government. Copying the WFP success model Democratic Socialist of America (DSA) and AOC have created their own left-wing political machines with interlocking political PACs and nonprofits to fund campaigns for candidates they endorse. AOC and other left-wing and socialist leaders combined the votes in the City Council districts they won to elected Antonio Reynoso, Brooklyn Borough President, against the Brooklyn machine that has held that position for over one-hundred years
The Republican show of strength in the City Council this year is a reaction to the recent left-wing gains in the city. Republican, Conservative, and independent voters and even some registered democratic voters fed-up with the left’s defund the police while crime increased, with problems like homelessness, mental illness that go on unsolved year after year, found a way to make their voices heard in spite of the city’s dysfunctional one-party election system that suppresses non-democratic voters and election turnouts, by voting Republican in local races. In the past, they voted Republican for President or Mayor and Democratic in local races. They moved off the democratic line in local races where 95% win as a show of protest of what is going on in the city.
The 2022 council will contain between four and seven GOP councilmembers, up from three this year. More importantly GOP candidates showed strength in an additional six council districts, with 40% of the vote: 13, 20, 23, 29, 46 and 49. In two districts, incumbents Robert Holden (30CD) and Kalman Yager (48CD) who were cross endorsed by both parties, received more votes on their GOP line. Since DSA, WFP and AOC were quite successful in electing left-wing City Council candidates this year, look for the governing majority on the City Council to look quite different this year.
The Split in the Council and NYC Politics is Not Democrat vs Republican as the NY Times Claims
The real split in NYC’s City Council is left-wing support of defunding the police, no bail, and ideological leader’s vs quality-of-life, fighting crime and keeping the tax base to save the city’s economy. The GOP Council Members will be on the quality-of-life team although they may disagree with the mayor and council majority on social issues like vaccine mandates, abortion and UFT power in the schools.
The NY Times, trapped in its progressive narrative, is wrong in assuming that the strong showing of Republicans “is not enough to pose a major threat to Democratic priorities on the City Council.” The Times ignores the recent vote on Biden’s infrastructure bill which needed Republicans to pass the bill and more importantly what Mayor-Elect Adams is saying. The new Mayor according to the NY Post claims elements of the Democratic Party are catering to “anarchists” within its ranks. Instead of focusing on kitchen-table issues, these so-called anarchists are “trying to disrupt our way of life.” It is clear Adams agrees with Democratic political strategist James Carville that the left “stupid wokeness” is hurting the Democratic Party, country, and NYC.
Political writer Ross Barkan who has his ears close to NYC’s growing “Woke” leaders wrote, “Democratic Socialist of America (DSA) isn’t taking over the NYC Council in 2022 but the number of Democrats who talk and act like DSA candidates is quite big. Eric Adams will have much to reckon with.” Black Lives Matter leader, Hawk Newsome, threatened “riots and bloodshed,” if Mayor-Elect Adams resumed using plainclothes police officers to fight gun violence. Hawk threatened the new Mayor that his allies on the new City Council will make problems for him.
The new Mayor will be on the “Quality-of-Life” leaders’ side, along with the GOP and the moderate Democratic council members. Although Adams being Adams, he will be lobbying, mentoring, and jawboning the new left-wing members of the council to help him rebuild NYC. Getting them to join his majority coalition will be no easy task. The left in the council ran on a platform to increase taxes on the rich, defund the police and reinventing and reimagining government. The governing coalition he decides on will determine the future of NYC. “I’m looking for a Council Speaker who can be a good check on the mayor here and now,” said Park Slope Councilwoman-Elect Shahana Hanif, a progressive whose campaign platform included diverting at least $3 billion from the NYPD’s budget.
Adams will try to get the new left members to understand the reality of NYC’s tax base. If the 65,000 wealthy or Wall Street moves out, there will be less money for the underserved, poor and minorities communities. Adams’ budget negotiations with the council will be eerily similar to what it took to pass the national infrastructure bill. GOP congressional members were needed to pass, because the democratic hard left voted against Biden’s bill.
Adams faces a City Council where many members do not understand how NYC was built and how it runs. What the new left-wing leaders of the City do not understand what happened to the immigrants historically written about on the base of the Statue of Liberty’s “Give me . . . your tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Progressives ignore the facts that the past generations of leaders of NYC built a city that allowed generations of immigrant’s poor to move up the economic ladder, to become part of the American Dream. The old leaders of NYC provided immigrants, the poor and minorities jobs, affordable housing, business opportunities and good schools for their children.
The Increased Republican Vote in 2021 Was A Response to the Success of Left-Wing Candidate Victories in Recent Years
NYC’s one-party broken dysfunctional political government and election system depressed voter turnout for the last two decades. de Blasio won the mayoralty in 2013 with 8.5% of the vote in a primary that only saw 20% of the city turnout to vote. In 2009, de Blasio and the WFP started to take over the Democratic Party, pulling it to the left, running candidates in high gentrification voter districts. That year WFP endorsed candidates including de Blasio (elected Public Advocate), Brad Lander, Jumaane Williams and Melissa Mark-Viverito elected to the City Council. In 2018, AOC who was not endorsed by the WFP and the anti-IDC democrats all won in districts undergoing gentrification.
The show of Republican strength in several council districts was a change in voting behavior. Up until this year most non-democratic voters would split their voting ticket – vote for a Republican presidential candidate and democratic candidates for city and state offices or stay home for the local races.
The reasons why New Yorkers voted the whole GOP ticket this year: 1) a reaction to the city’s government and politics turning left; 2) the frustration caused by the damage done to the city’s economy and social order during COVID ignored by democratic leaders in charge of the city; 3) the problems in the Biden administration.
The GOP Vote Increase Despite NYC’s One-Party Leaders Successfully Suppressing Two Million New York City Voters for Decades
Mayor Bloomberg, despite spending millions to pass a Charter Amendment that would have created nonpartisan primaries proposed, was defeated by NYC’s elected officials, unions, lobbyists, their clients, and party bosses. Bloomberg wanted to replace one-party primaries with a nonpartisan election and runoffs of the candidates that finished in the top two positions.
The opponents to the Bloomberg City Charter Amendment wanted to keep the broken election system to remain, because they can control who wins elections using it. These same opponents also worked to block the NYS Constitutional Convention in 2017, which could have imposed nonpartisan elections on the voters of NYC. The NY Times also opposed Bloomberg’s nonpartisan push and for holding a Constitutional Convention, which could have reformed the city’s Board of Elections that the paper complained about last month for the 50th time in the last 25 years. In 1967 a Times editorial called for “Reform at the Board of Elections”
The city’s good government groups like Common Cause who opposed Bloomberg’s 2003 nonpartisan election Charter Amendment clearly went one step further by pushing for Rank Choice Voted (RCV) that had the effect of further empowering the city’s left-left wing voters. Before the RCV rounds were counted anti-crime moderate Adams had 88,276, 9.3% lead. After the RVC rounds Adams won by 7,197, 1%.
Good Government groups and city’s newspaper editorial boards have not noticed or covered up that most non-democratic registered voters who are prevented from voting in primaries, also do not vote in the non-competitive General Elections. The shame of NY’s election system is that voters have given up on it, and those that the city’s political leaders are OK with suppressing their vote to keep control.
Even this year 80% of NYC registered voters did not vote and only 3.4% of New Yorkers voted during the 9 days of early voting in the general election. One wonders why developers like Steve Ross and others who spent over a million this year on a PAC to elect moderate council members are not using their power to push for nonpartisan elections where the two million non-democratic registered voters can make a difference on who gets elected in NYC. Those elected officials who assume that the 80% of New Yorkers who did not vote, will move out of the city or are passive people who will never make their voices heard, could be making the same mistake that Terry McAuliffe in Virginia did.
The City Republican Party is Also Dysfunctional, Without A Citywide Leadership, Voice or Platform
Until now the City’s GOP City Council members made patronage deals with the council speaker and did not function in any way as an opposition party. Most of the party leaders in the past were content to fight over party positions and control of the borough’s Republican Party – scraps. Some of the scrap leaders in 2013 even went to jail when they conspired to sell their party line to Democratic State Senator Malcolm Smith, who also went to jail for the attempted deed.
The strength the party showed in the 2021 General Election has more to do with change in voter attitudes than a party platform, although there were several well-run campaigns. The collateral damage of Republican victories or strong showing against Democratic Party leaders, unions and pay to play lobbyists political consultants is something to take note of. So is the support for the GOP among the growing number of Asian Voters.
If the GOP is to become a citywide player again, they will need, like the NY Mets, to find or develop leaders who know how to play the game. The NYC Republican leaders will have to also ignore their party’s national right-wing platform and support candidates like they did in the past. In the 1930’s reformer like Mayor Fiorello (Italian for ‘little flower’) LaGuardia, social liberals like Mayor John Lindsay in the 1960’s and environmentalists like East Side Congressman Bill Green who also supported abortion rights for women.
What Can Happen with Ending One-Party Rule in NYC
Competitive elections will bring opposition, choice, and debate of issues back into the election system. Ending one-party rule will weaken all the dictator-like control of the mayor, governor, city council speaker, assembly speaker and majority leader of the senate. It would also weaken the left-wing control of campaigns and government if the silent majority two million who are more moderate, were allowed to vote in primaries. With more competitive elections the voters and elected officials in non-leadership positions will be empowered. Voters will be able to pressure incumbents who get re-elected without fixing long-time city problems, like homelessness, lack of affordable housing and bad schools. As incumbents are beaten on a regular basis, voting turnout will increase, as people learn their vote can make a difference.
Diversity in winning candidates does not mean the public will be better represented and the city’s long-term problems solved. Only when issues of diversity or conflict and competitive campaigns break NYC’s one-party political and governmental monopoly will the voters interests’ matter.
Disconnected from the Voters: Political Party Bosses and Lobbyists Stay in Power in NYC’s Dysfunctional One-Party Election System
While the Brooklyn machine bosses have been chased off the borough streets, the AOC left-wing machine has taken over Northern Brooklyn while Trump’s Republicans have landed on the shores of Brighton Beach. The party leaders still hold on to Tammany Hall powers, created over one hundred years ago. They still have control at the Board of Elections (BOE) and the elections of the borough’s judges. The WFP which operates inside the Democratic Party has not tried to reform the BOE or run judges against the machine. Lobbyist consultants who lose races or do not even run campaigns keep their jobs from relations that have built up over the years, but most of their power comes from campaign donations from their clients and the ability to raise money for elected officials – bribing political candidates as it used to be called.
Ending One-Party Control of the City Will Even Change Press Coverage
The press missed the story of the Republican show of strength, AOC win and the anti-IDC progressive takeover of the State Senate in 2018 and left-wing takeover of Brooklyn Council delegation in the June Primary. Reporters without historical political knowledge and understanding, function as stenographers for the one-party elected officials and their lobbyist consultants. The end of the one-party monopoly in NYC will force them to cover fights between the two parties and between the Democratic Party left and majority factions in the new council. The new Mayor’s attempt to triangulate all the sides, will get reporters more clicks on their stories on the internet then they ever dreamed.