As recently as 1998, New York State’s Republican party controlled the governorship, a United States Senate seat, and the mayor’s office in Manhattan. Today, it is greatly diminished, with its sole beachhead of influence in the state senate, where it shares a majority with four independent Democrats. In contrast, the Working Families party (WFP), a 15-year-old left-wing, union-fueled group with just 20,000 members, now holds the whip hand over much of the dominant Democratic party in New York — and is already spreading its wings to other states. The WFP not only was a major force behind Bill de Blasio’s victory for mayor last November; it dominated the rest of the election, too. “They propelled all three citywide officials in New York City into office, and have a huge chunk of the city council allied with them,” says Hank Sheinkopf, a leading Democratic consultant who has worked for Hillary Clinton. “They are a real force.”
Yesterday’s voting brought an end to the 2013 election cycle. Ten of America’s 30 largest cities — including Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle — elected mayors this year. Another 13 of those 30 cities elected mayors during the 2011 cycle. And regardless of election year, the vast majority of American cities also allow candidates to skip a November contest entirely by winning a majority of votes cast in typically low-turnout first-round elections. America’s local elected officials still enjoy far higher citizen trust than their state (and, especially, their national) cousins, so it’s worth asking why so many local governments continue to risk their relatively favored status by structuring their election systems to virtually guarantee abysmal voter turnout, thus essentially disenfranchising huge numbers of citizens. New York City’s mayoral contest exemplifies the problem in two ways. First, like about 20 percent of all U.S cities, the Big Apple still elects mayors on a partisan basis. Just 22 percent of New York’s 4.2 million registered voters turned out for this September’s party primaries. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio won the Democratic nomination with a plurality of just 280,000 votes – less than 7 percent of the city’s registered voters. De Blasio’s primary win virtually guaranteed yesterday’s victory over Republican nominee Joe Lohta in a city where Democrats hold a 6-to-1 party-registration edge. Meanwhile, 700,000 non-affiliated voters, locked out of the party primaries, had no meaningful say in this election.
It looks as though the “super PAC” era is coming to New York. A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled that a conservative group supporting Joseph J. Lhota, the Republican nominee for mayor of New York City, can immediately begin accepting contributions of any size because New York State’s limit on donations to independent political committees is probably unconstitutional. The ruling, 12 days before the mayoral election, is not likely to change the dynamics of the race, given the wide lead of the Democratic candidate, Bill de Blasio, and a presumed reluctance by many potential big donors to donate to an underdog candidate this late in the game. But an end to limits on contributions to independent political groups could have a much bigger impact next year, when voters will decide whether to re-elect Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, and will determine which party controls the State Senate — a long-running battle in which independent spending could make a significant difference. “This could usher in an era where super PACs call the shots in campaigns all over the state, not just in the city,” said David Donnelly, the executive director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, which advocates public financing of elections.
While Bill de Blasio’s win in the Democratic contest for mayor was the big story out of New York on election day earlier this month, there were other national implications: one of our greatest cities showcased why it’s time to leave 19th century democracy behind. Election officials had to haul old lever machines out of storage, with highly predictable troubles involving broken machines and frustrated voters. In an equally outdated voting rule, voters could only indicate support for one candidate in each race, rather than rank them in order of preference — meaning that instead of a primary winner being determined on election day, there now needs to be an additional run-off election held in the city a few weeks later. When you can only choose one person in a multi-candidate field, the candidate with the most votes can earn well under 50 percent. (On Tuesday, Boston had a mayoral race in which the top vote-getter had just 18 percent; that city will have a runoff between the top two finishers.)
A new Republican group supporting the mayoral candidacy of Joseph J. Lhota sued New York election officials in federal court Wednesday to allow individuals to contribute more than the current $150,000 annual maximum to independent political groups. If successful, the lawsuit would allow similar outside groups, known as “super PACs,” to pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into helping either Mr. Lhota or his Democratic rival, Bill de Blasio. Mr. Lhota trails Mr. de Blasio by wide margins in polls, in a city where Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats, six to one. The new Republican group, New York Progress and Protection PAC, is separate from another pro-Lhota group that is backed by the billionaire David H. Koch, according to Michael Carvin, a Washington lawyer representing the new group.
The second-day story from New York City’s primaries last week could have been the exceptional performance of the city’s unique system of small-donor public financing. By providing a six-dollar public match for every dollar raised in contributions of $175 or less, the system enabled the little-known Scott Stringer to compete with and defeat Eliot Spitzer’s family fortune in the race for Comptroller. On the Republican side, it helped mayoral nominee Joe Lhota, who received almost half his total spending in public money, to overcome another self-financed millionaire. The top three Democratic candidates for mayor finished in reverse order of the amount of private money they had raised, and as Alec MacGillis noted here, public financing allowed the eventual nominee, Bill de Blasio, to resist the policy preferences of big donors, such as opposition to paid sick leave. Dozens of city council and other races featured three or more candidates with enough money to compete. But instead of celebrating a system that finally emerged from the shadows of Michael Bloomberg’s personal spending to show its value, we’ve had handwringing about the rise of “outside money,” or spending by groups other than the candidates and parties, in New York City politics. Jim Dwyer in The New York Times argued that outside spending was “reshaping” city politics, focusing on three independent committees: one that promoted “Anybody But [Christine] Quinn,” based on the City Council speaker’s refusal to block horse carriages from Central Park; a tiny committee formed to support Lhota, with contributions solely from David and Julia Koch; and Jobs for New York, the biggest outside spender, a front for the real estate industry.
The race to become New York City’s next mayor narrowed Monday as the runner-up in last week’s Democratic primary ended his campaign and endorsed Bill de Blasio, the liberal public advocate who has cast himself as the anti-Michael Bloomberg. But Bill Thompson, who captured just over 26% of the vote in the Sept. 10 primary, did not go out with a whimper as he announced his withdrawal at a news conference outside City Hall. Thompson, facing his second failed attempt at the mayor’s office, lashed out at the Board of Elections for taking days to count all the primary ballots, saying it made it impossible to campaign for what might have been a Thompson-De Blasio runoff on Oct. 1. “In the greatest city in the world, in the greatest democracy on Earth, we ought to be able to count all the votes,” said Thompson, who ran against Bloomberg in 2009. Tens of thousands of votes — including absentee ballots and paper ballots cast by voters who encountered malfunctioning voting machines — have not been counted and are not expected to be tallied until next week.
Editorials: Thompson Bows Out – Calls NYC Board of Elections a “Disgrace,” Needs Replacement with Professionals | New York Times
William Thompson Jr. made a gracious exit from the race for mayor of New York on Monday, throwing his support to Bill de Blasio, who probably got slightly more than 40 percent of the vote in last Tuesday’s Democratic primary, which he needed to avoid a runoff with Mr. Thompson. We say probably because the New York City Board of Elections hasn’t finished counting the votes. For the last week, Mr. Thompson has been in the awkward position of hanging around to see whether Mr. de Blasio’s unofficial 40.3 percent holds up. Mr. Thompson, who got 26.2 percent of the vote, saw that his odds were very long, and got on with his life. In leaving the race, Mr. Thompson called the board’s failure to deliver official results nearly a week after the vote a “disgrace.” He’s right, though its incompetence is hardly a surprise.
The Board of Elections says there are 78,000 paper ballots across the five boroughs that still need to be counted from Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Bipartisan teams across the city are unsealing and opening more than 5,000 lever voting machines Friday. BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan said the process is expected to wrap up by Sunday. “There’s always the potential for human error and that’s why New York has one of the most extensive recanvassing procedures in the country, to make sure that every vote is counted and every vote is counted accurate,” Ryan said. Bill de Blasio has slightly more than the 40 percent of the vote needed to avoid an Oct. 1 runoff. If de Blasio dips under 40 percent, he’ll face runner-up Bill Thompson. The outstanding ballots make up more than 11 percent of votes cast.
It is not rocket science. The odds favor Bill de Blasio. With tens of thousands of votes from the Democratic mayoral primary still to be counted, Mr. de Blasio needs only about one in three of them to remain above the 40 percent threshold he passed in the unofficial count to avoid a runoff against the second-place finisher,William C. Thompson Jr., on Oct. 1. The math will not be lost on Mr. Thompson as he mulls whether to remain in the race. Based on the preliminary count from lever voting machines and emergency ballots cast where machines were not working, about 645,000 votes were cast in the election on Tuesday. Mr. de Blasio received 260,000 votes, or about 2,100 more than he needed to surpass 40 percent.
We know that New York Public Advocate Bill de Blasio came from behind (way behind) to garner the most votes in yesterday’s Democratic primary for mayor, and with 98 percent of precincts reporting, we know he captured roughly 40 percent of the vote to Bill Thompson’s 26 percent. Randy Credico, a longtime comedian-turned-longshot mayoral candidate, barely registered: he got just about 2 percent of the vote, or 13,666 votes throughout the city. So why is a tiny district of the Bronx showing a drastically different story? And could it matter? Here, take a look at Election District 80-079 for yourself, via The New York Times’ interactive voting map. That’s up in Norwood by the Bronx River Parkway, encompassing East 206th and 207th Streets. It’s pink, which means it went for Credico, which means it’s easy to spot. See it? As the map would have you believe, Credico captured 1,001 votes in the district ahead of second-place de Blasio’s 36. That’s 90.8 percent of District 80-079, which is astounding, but also a staggering turnout for one tiny district in the Bronx. In bordering district 80-083, just 126 votes were recorded; in neighboring 80-080, a meager 72. Credico received no votes in either district. Hmm. … So: does it matter? That depends, of course, on whether or not de Blasio tops the 40 percent he needs to steer clear of a runoff election with Thompson.
The Democratic mayoral primary is still too close to call even though Bill de Blasio leads by more than 90,000 votes. That’s because de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, must clear 40% of the vote to avoid a primary runoff with Bill Thompson, former city comptroller and second-place finisher. De Blasio’s vote totals are hovering around the 40% mark, but Thompson declined to concede, and the city’s Board of Elections has yet to count more than 19,000 absentee ballots. If de Blasio dips below 40%, he and Thompson will compete in a runoff election Oct. 1. Nearly 650,000 votes were cast in the race Tuesday.