America Has Not Decided In Which Direction to Go
By HENRY STERN
The 2012 national election has been described by both parties as a clash of competing ideologies; the politicians said it would be an Armageddon whose outcome would determine America’s course for decades.
Like so many political predictions, that one turned out to be wrong. The 50 - 48 percent split between candidates Obama and Romney did not show a national consensus. Although the results taken individually were somewhat better for the Democrats, the Republicans kept control of the House. There was no mandate to either expand the safety net or to weaken it. Polls showed a majority of the population favored a lesser role for the government in economic affairs, while at the same time they voted for Obama, who held the opposite view.
This election turned out to be a victory for moderation. Candidates who ran primaries on the far right moved towards the center in the general election, if for no other reason than that is where the votes are. However, there was not enough time to pirouette twice and a few Republicans were caught with their snakeskins still molting.
In New York State’s 27 house districts (down from 45 in 1950), no Member of Congress was defeated primarily on ideological grounds. There was no significant swing in either direction. Turnovers resulted from local sentiment and the individual strengths and weaknesses of candidates, not from a switch in public opinion from one philosophy to another. As is often the case, the same people who in polls found fault with their legislators nonetheless generally re-elected them.
The national parties spent billions of dollars in political races and ended up in practically the same place they began. However that does not mean that the money was wasted because if the parties had not spent it they might have incurred substantial losses. The fact that the races were so costly, largely because of the high cost of media time in New York State, does not prove that the expenditures were unnecessary.
State Senate Democrats were helped by an infusion of millions of dollars by the teachers union in several races, coupled with President Obama’s strong showing at the top of the ticket.
The first issue that will arise after the election is whether to call the current New York State Legislature back into session before Jan. 1. They want substantial pay increases for themselves, which would make them the highest paid state legislators in the country. The issue will likely be what reforms they will begrudgingly enact in order to get the Governor to sweeten the pot. The choice of leaders will be fascinating; remember what happened the last time Senate Democrats had a majority, in 2009.
Another factor for Governor Cuomo, a presumed candidate for President in 2016, is that he does not want to be seen as opposing a left-leaning state legislature so he will have a compelling reason to participate in the choice of leadership, although of course he will express disinterest in the matter. If he does not weigh in and the legislature chooses someone who is ideologically at odds with him, it will add to his difficulty in governing. If a fractious legislature makes the Governor appear to be out of step with his own party, that would not be helpful to his ambition.
Again there is a potential conflict between the delegates to the 2016 Democratic convention, many of whom will be proud socialists, and the overall electorate, whose viewpoints are much more moderate. This is analogous to the tea party situation: militant activists influencing the party beyond their numbers and making it more difficult for them to win a broad-based national election.
Superstorm at the Ballot Box
By SCOTT M. STRINGER
Hurricane Sandy showcased how vulnerable New York City is to the wrath of Mother Nature. But as voters throughout the five boroughs saw first-hand on Election Day, the storm also underscored how decades of poor policy decisions regarding voter registration and access to the ballot have created significant barriers to political participation across the Empire State.
New York City consistently has some of the lowest voter turnout in the entire nation. Last June, the city’s Campaign Finance Board issued a report finding that in the November 2010 elections, turnout in the city was significantly lower (28 percent) than in the rest of the state (53 percent) and nationally (46 percent). New York City also had lower voter turnout in the presidential elections in 2008 than any other major U.S. city.
Of course, issues at the polls are not limited to New York City. An Election Protection coalition of civil rights and voting access groups said they received more than 80,000 complaints and questions to their voter protection hotline.
However, voting complaints - ranging from long lines and broken machines, to poorly-trained staff and a lack of ballots - flowed in from all corners of the City.
Voters in Flushing, Cambria and across hard-hit neighborhoods of Howard Beach experienced backlogs that stretched for hours. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund told the New York Times that election workers in Flushing and Jackson Heights had refused to give out affidavit ballots in accordance with Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order.
There is no excuse for these types of issues, particularly when so many of our sister states have embraced reform that has improved turnout and reduced crowding on Election Day.
Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order allowing all displaced voters to cast affidavit ballots at any polling place was the right call, and a decision I praised. However, there are longer-term steps New York could take today to fix this woeful system and fix it for good — not just in times of weather-related crises, but always.
Fixing New York’s voting system starts by joining 32 other states and embracing early voting, which allows citizens to exercise their right to vote well in advance of Election Day. Instead of imposing a barrier on working people who may not be able to get to the polls on the first Tuesday of November, these states permit voting from four to 45 days prior to Election Day, with the average across all 32 states being 19 days.
In addition, New York should do away with the needless excuses that are required to qualify for an absentee ballot.
Many other states, including New Jersey, allow no-excuse absentee voting. However, in New York, voters must first prove they will be out of the city, or are disabled, hospitalized, or in prison facing a misdemeanor charge to get an absentee ballot.
For a state that prides itself as the gateway to America for millions of immigrants and a leader of progressive government, the time has come for New York to embrace both early voting and no-excuse absentee voting in order to expand access to the ballot box.
Here’s the point: As we continue to recover from Sandy, debates have already begun about storm walls, sea barriers, and other devices to protect New York from future storms. But we must also engage in a debate about modernizing the law so that all New Yorkers can exercise one of our most sacred civic rights and responsibilities: voting.
Scott M. Stringer is the Manhattan Borough President.
The Broken Windows of Politics
By TOM ALLON
One of the main reasons we saw violent crime recede dramatically in New York in the 1990s was because the city police adopted the “broken windows” theory of policing.
This revolutionary idea, advanced first by Harvard Professor James Wilson, maintained that small symbols of crime and disorder, like broken windows in city buildings, illustrates a lack of order and policing that then leaves the door wide open for more violent crime.
So, put in practice by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a crackdown on subway fare beaters and “squeegee men,” those who forcibly tried to clean people’s car windows and were seen as menacing by some, was the first step in attacking crime. It worked.
We need the political equivalent of “broken windows” policing in how we treat our elected leaders in New York.
Corruption and crime has become cancerous in our body politic in New York in the last decade. People like Carl Krueger, Miguel Martinez, Pedro Espada and Larry Seabrook have actually gone to jail for crimes they committed while in office.
But we have not gone far enough. We have a man in Brooklyn, the former county leader, who will walk the halls of New York State’s legislature in the coming weeks and months, who is an alleged sexual predator.
So much evidence of Vito Lopez’s bad behavior has emerged that his Democratic leader, Sheldon Silver, thought it wise to spend taxpayer dollars to settle two of these cases with former employees.
Yet, still, this man continues in office, representing a large Brooklyn community, free to harass female employees again. And despite ongoing investigations into his behavior, his male — and female — colleagues look the other way and do not ask for his full resignation as an elected leader.
Whay kind of example are our leaders setting for the rest of society? Why doesn’t Governor Andrew Cuomo push for Lopez’s ouster? Why don’t smart women in the Assembly like Cathy Nolan, Deobrah Glick and Linda Rosenthal insist that Lopez resign?
Because we have an incumbent protection program rather than a “broken windows” theory of politics.
And this is one of the main reasons we have political dyfunction, low voter turnout and a lack of respect for our elected officials.
The windows are broken in New York State’s Assembly. Vito Lopez must go.
Tom Allon is a 2013 Republican and Liberal Party-backed candidate for Mayor of New York City.