Crashing the party with nonpartisan elections

It’s deeply unhealthy for New York to have so many potemkin elections, with far too many contests up and down the ballot functionally decided in low turnout primaries — at least in those contests when voters have a choice at all.

That dynamic — along with a nationally radicalized GOP with seemingly endless space for zealots and frauds like George Santos — helps explain how the state has a Legislature dominated by Democrats increasingly following the lead of its farther-left members and coming very close to open war with a Democratic governor, and a similar dynamic in New York City.

It’d be great to have nonpartisan elections here so that all voters, not just registered Democrats who show up for closed primaries, have a real say, instead of a system that effectively disenfranchises many New Yorkers while forcing others to join the party simply to have a vote that counts.

That system is how Bill de Blasio converted a quarter million votes in a crowded 2013 primary full of tainted candidates into running a city of more than 8 million people and a budget that came to the better part of a trillion dollars over the following eight years.

But it’s hard to imagine a worse nonpartisan elections standard-bearer than Andrew Yang, the stunt candidate who never bothered to even vote for mayor before parachuting into the 2021 mayoral race himself and exposing the hollowness of the Democratic Party as he surged to the top of the polls before eventually fading, and who was secretly writing a book about leaving the party at the same time he was running in its primary.

The former Democrat’s team may well be the reason that former Republican Eric Adams was elected mayor.

I’ll have more to say about that soon, but Yang is on my mind now because he just announced, at Anthony Scaramucci’s Hunt and Fish Club no less, that he’s teaming up with former longtime Brooklyn councilman, moderate Democrat and perennial gadfly Sal Albanese (whose losing bids for higher office include runs for mayor against de Blasio in 2013 and 2017) to try and end partisan elections in New York.

Yang, a proven attention-getter and money-raiser who’s never finished an election higher than fourth place, has joined Albanese’s effort to collect signatures for a ballot measure letting voters decide on a new “Final Five” election with an open primary where the top five candidates then face off in a ranked-choice general election.

Spoiler alert: It’s a great idea, but it isn’t happening any time soon.

As reporter Jeff Coltin put it in the publication City and State, “even if city voters just approved [Ranked Choice Voting in primaries and special elections] in 2019, passing Final Five seems nearly impossible. The party organizations would hate it, and so would most of the elected officials elected with their support. If the campaign picks up any steam, expect them, and allies like labor unions, to spend against it.”

That’s precisely why it’s such an appealing idea, one that would return power to voters (and increase their numbers) from the apparatuses and operators supposedly wielding power on behalf of the people but inevitably hoarding it for themselves.

Expecting the party orgs and their allies to do that voluntarily is absurd.

It’s one thing for an outsider to disrupt an election. It’s a much higher bar for an outsider, even a winning one, to dismantle the systems that benefit and are maintained by insiders.

Yang, maybe the worst conceivable figurehead for this cause, might want to ask the Bloomberg veterans who ran his 2021 mayoral campaign about what happened in 2003 when the billionaire mayor did get nonpartisan elections on the ballot.

It was opposed by virtually all of the other powers-that-be here and overwhelmingly rejected by those voters, not including Yang, who bothered to show up in a year when not much else was at stake.

If Yang cares about more than burnishing the new nonpartisan brand he’s promoting using the national recognition he gained as a two-time Democratic candidate who knows how to perform for the cameras, he’s got a lot of hard work ahead of him making a winning case to voters. I won’t hold my breath.

One person who did support Bloomberg’s push? Eric Adams, who’d just rejoined the Democratic Party after several years as a registered Republican.

“In contrast to the opposition propaganda, a nonpartisan election process is not an attempt to disenfranchise minorities or any particular party. It is in fact an opportunity to open up the electoral process so all New Yorkers could participate,” Adams wrote.

Amen.

But asked as if he still felt that way in 2021, Adams replied: “No, I support the political party system in NYC.”

Siegel (harrysiegel@gmail.com) is an editor at The City and a columnist for the Daily News.