Why Did So Few
Vote for Mayor?
By Henry J. Stern
November 13, 2009
Ten days after the election, we have made some observations and are coming to a few conclusions as to why events transpired as they did. We will set down what we know are facts, and what we believe to be true in a relatively spare style, rather than a more formal essay.
1. A national trend which ran against the Democratic Party, part of it a common off-year setback to the party in power in Washington. People voted last year to turn the rascals out, and many are disappointed that their circumstances are no better now. Voters, primarily conservatives and independents, but some liberals, were critical of the Obama administration’s first nine months. Important Democratic constituencies have been disappointed to some extent by his actions and his attitude, which are perceived as unsympathetic to their interests. Guantanamo Bay is an example of frustration, why announce its closing if there is no place to put the inmates and it would be dangerous to set them free.
The tide of voters who burst upon the scene in 2008 to elect a young and vigorous President has receded somewhat, as waves generally do. Millions of people, including a disproportionately large number of younger Democrats, did not vote in this off-year election, where Obama was not on the ballot . In general, older people are more likely to vote than those who are 18 to 30, who are more likely to shop. Older voters tend to be more conservative, perhaps because they have lived longer or because they are more fearful of change.
2. A strong anti-incumbent sentiment emerged in local elections. In what was probably a suburban tax revolt, many minor officials were defeated, even those who had opposed tax increases. Many New Yorkers are disgusted with state government, believing it to be both wasteful and corrupt. As far as the State Legislature is concerned, the public is far on target. The stories about Senators Bruno, Espada and Monserrat reflect poorly on public officials in general. The substantial vote switches in Westchester and Nassau counties are the result in part of popular dissatisfaction, the burden of rising property taxes, and resentment of public expenditures. No state offices being at stake, the voters’ wrath fell on county executives.
3. The unusually low vote in the mayoral race was due to a number of factors.
a. Many voters thought a large Bloomberg victory was inevitable. Some did not bother to vote. This applies to people on each side, but more so for supporters of the mayor, since they were usually not as intense as those who wanted to drive him from office.
b. Some voters did not care too much for either mayoral candidate, so they did not take the time or trouble to go the polls.
c. Others were annoyed with Bloomberg over the maneuvers to allow a third term, his expensive and repetitive commercials, land use and development decisions with which they disagreed, tickets they had received for parking and other violations, and the general irritations that people have with the authorities. On the other hand, they did not want Thompson as mayor, for both good and bad reasons. Some people told me that they voted for Thompson, but were glad that Bloomberg won. They wanted to teach Bloomberg a lesson, but keep him as mayor.
d.. Bloomberg’s campaign was too much, and Thompson’s was too little. The race never seems like a real contest, as Christie-Corzine did.
e.. The other two city-wide elections, for Comptroller (Liu) and Public Advocate (de Blasio), were certain to be runaway victories for the Democrats, so there was no need for anyone to go to the polls to vote for them, and no chance of success for those who were against them.
4. Four borough presidents were re-elected to a new term with minimal opposition. If not for the term limit extension, only Stringer of Manhattan and Diaz, Jr. of the Bronx would have been eligible to run. They both come from political families: Stringer’s mother was a Councilmember for a year, his late father was counsel to Mayor Beame and his stepfather was City Clerk. Diaz’ father is a State Senator from the Bronx. The three who were reprieved are Marshall of Queens, Markowitz of Brooklyn and Molinaro of Staten Island, the lone Republican-Conservative BP, who handily defeated a Democratic nominee who also ran four years ago.
5. The Council races were mostly one-sided, but a few were real contests. City Council contests, however, generally do not bring out voters who would not vote anyway for the major candidates.
Three new members were elected from Queens: Dan Halloran in Bayside, Peter Koo in Flushing, and Eric Ulrich in Richmond Hill – Ozone Park, who had won a special election earlier this year to succeed Joe Addabbo, who became a State Senator in January. The two other Republicans are Staten Islanders: James (Old Town) Oddo, the minority leader, and Vincent (Etna) Ignizio, who were re-elected.
There are 46 Democrats on the Council, none of whom lost in the general election, although five were knocked out in the Democratic primary on September 15 ( Alan Jay Gerson of Manhattan, Maria Baez of the Bronx, Helen Sears of Queens, Kendall Stewart of Brooklyn and Ken Mitchell on Staten Island. which constitutes a revolution in New York City Council elections. Note the symmetryone incumbent lost in each of the five boroughs.
6. City-wide, voters cast 142,817 votes on the Independence Party line for Bloomberg, In 2005 his total on the Independence line was 74,655 and in 2001, his first race for mayor, his Independence total was 59,091. These figures do not derive from an increase in the popularity of Lenora Fulani, the downstate party leader. They reflect rising disillusionment with the major parties, and the desire of many voters to support Bloomberg but not to identify themselves with Republicans.
7. The Working Families candidates who lost in the Democratic primary but continued their races on the WF line were defeated by large margins. Although the party and its paid legions had considerable influence in Democratic primaries, it was not successful in the general election when its candidates opposed two Brooklyn Democrats. Al Vann and Diana Reyna survived WF challenges. In Reyna’s case, her former mentor, county leader Vito Lopez, tried unsuccessfully twice to purge her. They had differed on capital projects
8. The Working Families Party, which supported Thompson for mayor, polled just 27,088 votes for him on their ballot line, less than one-fifth of the number that supported Bloomberg on the Independence line. This indicates that Thompson voters were more satisfied with the Democratic Party than Bloomberg voters were with Republicans. More Bloomberg voters were Democrats or independents than Republicans, judging from the vote totals in the contests for Comptroller and Public Advocate.
It will be fascinating to see what the city’s elected officials do in the face of the financial disaster which appears to be impending. Theoretically, they should work together to find solutions, but there are significant ideological differences between the three city-wide elected officials. In addition, it is possible that the other two will be running against each other to succeed Mayor Bloomberg. It is possible that they will be guided by reason. It is likely that they will compete to find the most ‘progressive’ course in any situation. It is always possible that they will act in the public interest, because in the long run that is in their own interest. They will, however, be subject to pressure from the forces that supported them in the primaries, and higher taxes and a soak-the-rich attitude will prevail, under the slogan of the counter-cliché, not balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. Each side pretends to act in the interest of the middle class, which can loosely be defined as anyone who believes s/he is in the middle class.
What will happen when the wave hits? Time will tell, it marches on, it waits for no man, and in the end it runs out. We cite Rule 11: “Let it unfold.”
StarQuest #619 11.13.2009 1345wds