- There were no surprises in last week’s Citywide elections. The Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller were all re-elected decisively, as were all five borough presidents and the two District Attorneys on the ballot. The Constitutional Convention was also defeated decisively.
- Tuesday’s election may have set a record low for voter turnout in NYC.
- City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo defeated DSA-endorsed Green Party rival Jabari Brisport in Tuesday’s election. She will continue to represent District 35, an office she has held since 2013. Although he lost, Brisport did win 29% of the vote. This is impressive, especially when you take into account that he ran solely on third-party ballot lines in a staunchly Democratic district.
- At least ten new people were elected to the New York City Council last week.
- In Queens, Bob Holden holds a narrow lead over Elizabeth Crowley (cousin of United States Congressman Joe Crowley) with absentee votes still outstanding. Holden, a registered Democrat, ran on the Republican line to challenge the incumbent Crowley, attacking her for calling to close Rikers, among other things.
- City Councilman Mathieu Eugene was seen and photographed at polling places across his district on election day in violation of state election law, according to his opponent Brian Cunningham and witnesses. Eugene defeated Cunningham 60 to 36 percent. Cunningham is pursuing legal action.
- In non-NYC elections, 15 DSA members were elected to public office last week, including Lee Carter, who unseated the Majority Whip of the Virginia House of Delegates. According to some, the victories are “the biggest threat to American culture since the communists planted missiles in Cuba.”
- Mayor de Blasio wants to prioritize education and rent-control in his second term.
- The Writers Guild of America, East, held a rally outside City Hall on Monday in support of the recently laid off journalists from DNAinfo and Gothamist. Right-wing billionaire Joe Ricketts shut down both publications without warning on Nov. 2, less than a week after their collective newsrooms had voted to unionize. Coverage of the rally has been slow to come out, perhaps because neither Gothamist nor DNAinfo were around to cover it.
- State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli says the MTA will have to raise fares again if it cannot find another source of revenue to pay for needed repairs.
- In honor of Veterans Day, Governor Cuomo signed legislation allowing medicinal marijuana for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
- The City will hold public hearings in each borough to debate what should be done about “problematic statues.”
- Although the State released regulations that appeared to negate the City’s attempts to ban on-call scheduling, a spokesperson for the Governor clarified the State’s position after criticism from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
In-Depth: NYC Voter Turnout
Election Day 2017: There were over 1 million votes cast in last week’s mayoral election. While that’s a lot in raw numbers, it’s a small fraction of New York City’s eligible voters. Only 14% of the City’s registered voters voted for Bill de Blasio, who was nevertheless re-elected by a wide margin. That’s because turnout this year was a record low, breaking the record low of 2013, which broke the previous low of 2009. In other words, this year was just the latest in a trend of abysmal turnout for City elections.
Why Don’t New Yorkers Vote?: The simplest explanation for low voter turnout in New York City elections is the fact that so few races are competitive. In a City where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly five to one, general elections are not typically close. De Blasio won by nearly 40%, but down ballot races are even more extreme. Letitia James and Scott Stringer received 74% and 77%, respectively, and the incumbent District Attorneys in both Brooklyn and Manhattan faced only nominal opposition. In last week’s City Council races, the median share of the vote for winning candidates was 83%.
But even relatively contested and well-publicized primaries draw lower turnout than general elections: The 2013 Democratic mayoral primary had a turnout of only 23%. In this year’s Democratic primary for the open seat in Council District 43 (Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights), only 21% of active registered Democrats in the District voted.
It would be a mistake to conclude that the low turnout and lack of competitive races in New York City were not results of deliberate engineering on the part of elected officials. New York is one of only 12 states with no early voting, and this year Governor Cuomo sided with Republicans in the State Senate to block attempts to expand ballot access. And while New York does not require photo ID to vote, the City recently had to settle a lawsuit over inappropriately removing names from its voter rolls.
Primaries, which are often the only chance for an upset given the one-sided nature of most districts, are particularly skewed. For one, New York does not have open primaries, despite having nearly one million active voters who are not registered as either Democrats or Republicans. This group—which is more than twice as big as the City’s registered Republicans—cannot vote at all in these primaries. And New York State’s rules for changing party affiliation are uniquely restrictive, forcing voters to do so over a year in advance.
On top of that, the Board of Elections does not consolidate primaries. This means that, in 2016 for example, there were three separate primary dates, for presidential, congressional, and state-level seats, driving turnout to shocking lows. And even if all that fails, The Thorn has outlined the various creative ways in which New York City pols deliberately avoid competitive elections.
All this gives incumbents a stranglehold on power, and allows Mayor de Blasio to claim “a clear mandate” despite receiving votes from less than 10% of the City’s population.\
What This Means For DSA: While the persistently low turnout in City elections is bad for fans of democracy, it presents an opportunity for small, but mobilized groups like the DSA. The success of DSA candidates in last week’s elections came mostly in contests with about 20,000 votes cast. And while the average New York City Council district has between 80,000 and 100,000 active voters, the low turnout puts the actual elections squarely within the 20,000-vote range. Primaries, where most of the action happens in City elections, have even smaller electorates. So while New York City’s low turnout numbers may be a depressing illustration of the state of City politics, they are also an opportunity to be seized.