NEW YORK — Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, San Antonio and Dallas are big Democratic cities that have gone where New York hasn’t: they hold nonpartisan elections.
Under a nonpartisan system, the final contest for mayor could have resembled the nail-biter of a Democratic primary.
Instead, the contest that formally decided the seat was the predictable one between Democrat Eric Adams and Republican Curtis Sliwa. The turnout was a record-low 21 percent.
The result was a lopsided 66% win for Adams.
“This may be a good time to take stock and see whether we can improve on our system,” said Citizens Union chair Randy Mastro, "whether that means continuing ranked-choice voting in primaries or whether it means ranked-choice voting in a nonpartisan election context, which is what they do in San Francisco, for example, or whether it means just going to nonpartisan elections.”
What You Need To Know
- Los Angeles, Chicago and other big cities use nonpartisan elections in place of party primaries
- Mike Bloomberg led a push in 2003 for nonpartisan elections
- Advocates say they would reduce partisanship, force voters to choose based on issues instead of party allegiance
- Eric Adams supported nonpartisan elections before he was an elected official, but now opposes them
Before he held elected office, Eric Adams himself advocated for nonpartisan elections. In 2003, Adams, then a police officer and leader of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, also defended Michael Bloomberg’s financing of the push to scrap party primaries.
“I think it’s anti-American that a person cannot use their hard-earned money in something they believe in,” he said then, according to NY1 coverage. “The Democratic Party and machine politics have been doing it for years.”
The 2003 ballot initiative failed. And Adams has since changed his tune. He was asked last April if he supports an open primary system:
“No, I support the political party system in NYC,” he said on the Citizens Union questionnaire.
Adams’ team did not respond to questions for clarity on his position.
David Yassky, a former City Council member, has made the opposite evolution.
“In 2003, when this was on the ballot, I was an elected Democrat,” he told NY1. “Part of my thinking must have been, Well, this system works because I’m here.”
Yassky was among the many Democratic officials who testified against nonpartisan elections.
Now, he said: “We’ve gotten so deep into a hyper-partisanship that is destructive of public debate, destructive of compromise, that I’m willing to give up a little bit of ‘the most Democrat possible has to win’ in order for more a feeling of community.”
Opponents of ballots without party labels say voters would rely instead on cues like a candidate’s ethnicity. Proponents say people would vote for a platform rather than a party.
But there’s still the question of the political will to adopt nonpartisan voting.
“I think there’s a lot of latent belief among regular people that the party system doesn’t work for them,” Yassky said.
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