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In a speech last week to the Independence Party in Minnesota, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent since last June, noted that 700,000 New Yorkers were left out in the cold on primary day because they are neither Democrats nor Republicans.
In a city where primary elections carry more weight than general elections, that becomes a problem. With few exceptions, the City Council or the state Legislature candidate who wins the Democratic primary can expect to win the general elections. The general elections are symbolic and primaries often controlled by political bosses.
The mayor noted that he had not missed voting in a primary since he was a young man until this year, when he changed affiliation. He noted that the city's powerful Democratic bosses never would have let him win the Democratic mayoral nomination. That is why he changed parties and ran as a Republican. The Republicans were happy to find a candidate with money and the possibility of succeeding Rudy Giuliani.
But despite Bloomberg's success, the process remains broken. The mayor questions why city taxpayers should pay for primary elections in which they cannot participate. He calls for campaign finance reforms and rule changes to open primaries to independent voters.
There are few independent thinkers who have taken on the system and won. State Sen. Frank Padavan comes to mind. In an overwhelmingly Democratic district, the Republican runs virtually unopposed.
This happens for two reasons. First, the average Little Neck voter likely has more in common with moderate Republicans than the borough's Democratic machine. Second, they have found in Padavan a man who is not reluctant to stand up to his own party when it is not aligned with district needs.
This independent spirit is refreshing and rare. We have disagreed with Padavan on occasion, but have never doubted his integrity or commitment to the people who elect him.
Recognizing the problem is easier than fixing it. Independent thinkers like Padavan and Bloomberg remain the exception to the rule. The powerful Democratic bosses retain tight control over the electoral process and are squeezing the life out of the city's democracy.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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