This morning, around 9 a.m., I went to my polling place in Sunnyside to vote in New York City’s Republican mayoral primary. Without checking my party affiliation, the poll workers handed me a Democratic voter card. Then I told them I was a Republican, and they looked confused.
“You’re the first Republican voter today,” one said. The polls had been open for more than three hours.
They grabbed a card from the (unused) stack of pink Republican voter cards, but they weren’t quite sure what to do with it. Were they supposed to write an index number of 41 on it (because I was the 41st voter overall) or did I get to be No. 1? Not only was I the first Republican to vote, it apparently hadn’t occurred to them that a Republican might arrive at any point.
“This isn’t much of a Republican neighbourhood,” the lead poll worker told me.
That’s true; though neighborhoods farther east in Queens are politically competitive, my local Democratic assemblywoman is routinely reelected with about 80% of the vote. When I voted in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, late in the evening, I was one of about 10 voters who had shown up to a vote precinct covering a much larger geographic area than this morning’s.
Ultimately, it was determined that I would be voter No. 41, and I was shown into the lever machine. I had thought I might be faced with some downballot races in which I knew nothing about the candidates. Not to worry: The only contested Republican race is for mayor.
It’s kind of silly that New York City has party primaries. Expected turnout in today’s Republican primary is just 60,000 in a city of 8 million (about 700,000 will likely vote in the Democratic Primary.) And though the Republican candidate has won the last five mayoral races, that’s come through a set of unusual circumstances, including nominating someone who is more or less a liberal Democrat in the last three.
I voted for Joe Lhota; I wrote about my support for him on the all-important subway cats issue, which I view as a proxy for his willingness to say “no” to the parade of interest groups that come to the mayor looking for support for their bad ideas.
But I have been disheartened by the mail I get from both Lhota and the clown he’s running against, John Catsimatidis. Their primary campaign messages are targeted to the parts of the city that have significant concentrations of Republican primary voters: Staten Island, southern Brooklyn, and eastern Queens. These are the sorts of places where voters are very interested in bridge tolls, parking, and property taxes on single-family homes, and not so interested in transit or fostering real estate development. Republican voters there also tend to be sort of reactionary on policing issues.
Similarly, the Democratic primary electorate is far more left-wing than the city as a whole, which leads the candidates to lurch as far to the left as they can. When he gets into the weeds on policy, as in this interview on development issues with The Real Deal, I get the sense that frontrunner Bill de Blasio is pretty thoughtful and might not be such a bad mayor. But he and his opponents have done pretty much everything they can to alienate moderate voters like me during the primary campaign.
The unsuitability of the Democratic primary as a method for picking candidates for mayor is what allowed Republicans to win the last five mayoral races in New York City. It looks like the sixth time will be the charm. But we’d have an easier time picking good leaders who align with the city’s median voter if we switched to nonpartisan elections like those in most large U.S. cities.
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