As anyone who lives in New York is aware, it’s municipal election season. The mayoral race, holding the most political power, has attracted the most attention. The mayoral race has also received nationwide publicity due to a scandalous candidate, which also helped elevate the comptroller’s race into visibility. There are many other positions up for grabs, however, including Public Advocate, Borough President, and City Council. It’s easy to brush these elections off, but New Yorkers should take them seriously; your lives hang in the balance.
1) Your vote counts. Many Americans only vote in presidential elections, an ironic feat since most do not live in battleground states. I concede that there is a unique excitement to a national election. Media coverage on every channel, on every front page obsesses over the details of those elections for months, but only a handful of states are actively pursued. In 2012, President Obama carried 81% of the city’s vote (New York Times). As solidly blue as we might be in national contexts, the City of New York has not elected a Democrat as its chief executive in last two decades. In 2009, the mayorship was won with just barely over 50% of the vote (New York Times). That’s not to mention the many primaries and more local positions where the results remain up in the air.
2) Your vote affects your day-to-day life. Can you drink a soda greater than 16 ounces? Do you have a job? Can you walk home at night without getting robbed, injured, or killed? Mayor Bloomberg has proven through his commitment to public health, economic development, and safety that elected officials can affect the everyday lives of New Yorkers. Local legislation is often (and appropriately) further reaching than national or state legislation. Those of my friends who have just moved to NYC should not take their jobs for granted. New York sustains its economic vitality because of many key choices that it has made in developing its economy. Your job and your standard of living can unravel quickly depending on the choices of our elected officials.
3) Your municipal vote may be more powerful than it once was. Many scholars have observed a shift of power to metropolises and away from Washington. As our national politics stagnates due to political polarization, local governments are shouldering increasing responsibility. Many states are stepping up too, but do you really want to rely on the corrupt and ineffective practices of Albany? Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley of Brookings write in The Metropolitan Revolution about the potential of local communities, citing the New York as one of their examples.
4) Your vote has wide-ranging implications. New York often pioneers innovative new ideas that spread around the country and around the world. Take the NYC Green Cart program that I worked on. The program has increased fresh fruit and vegetable access in disadvantaged communities so successfully that its been adapted in other places such as Philadelphia and D.C. New York often drives national discussion. New York’s stop, question, and frisk program is not just a citywide controversy, but has led to countrywide questions about the conflict of individual rights, discrimination, and safety. Don’t forget, the New York mayorship is also a podium. Mayor Bloomberg’s financial strength and strong networks obviously increase the volume of his voice, but it is from his mayorship that he had led the movement for increased gun control.
What can you do?
- Register to vote if you haven’t already. It’s too late to vote in the primaries, but you can still make it for the general election. Those with a New York State license can register online through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
- Vote in the primary election on September 10th. It is widely expected that a Democrat will ultimately become mayor in this year’s elections, making this vote all the more crucial. The race for NYC Public Advocate, the first in line for secession for mayor, involves no Republicans and will thus be essentially decided in the primary.
- Vote in the primary runoff election on October 1st. A candidate needs at least 40% of the primary vote to enter the general election. Since none in the field from the Democratic Party have that margin, there will likely be a runoff election for that party.
- Vote in the general election on November 5th.