Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Is 50,000 Enough

Mayor's Race Not As Tight
As It Appeared Last Night

By Henry J. Stern
November 4, 2009

When corporations report profits or losses today, the emphasis is not only on how much money they made or lost, but also on whether they ‘beat the street’.

That refers to the comparison between the predictions of stock analysts and the actual earnings of the corporation.

By that standard, the election result last night was not a victory for Mayor Bloomberg. He won by five points, whereas the latest Marist poll had him up by twelve. However, it was not a defeat. For one thing, he was re-elected as Mayor for the next four years, through December 31, 2013 if he chooses to stay.

For another thing, he survived a major backlash against the use of the City Council to over-ride two referenda which provided an eight-year maximum term for city elected officials. It is intrinsically unjust, in a democracy, for the executive and legislative branches to conspire to set aside decisions made by the whole public.

Whether or not such a maneuver is technically legal, it is a serious violation of the principle that government depends on the consent of the governed. This was combined with a $100 million campaign, in which the playing field was far from level. The juxtaposition of changing the charter and spending a fortune on the campaign caused considerable resentment among large numbers of ordinary people whose sense of fairness, perhaps learned in the playground, was affronted by these machinations.

There was widespread agreement that the mayor had done a good, honest job of running the city. The comparison with state government and Albany weighs heavily in the city’s favor. His supporters, who disapproved of his actions on term limits, did not believe that they should give up the progress the city had made in order to punish the mayor. The election came out well; enough people deserted the mayor for him to feel properly chastened, but not enough abandoned him so as to deprive the city of his generally well-regarded services. BTW, surprisingly, the Republicans won two more Council seats, going from three to five out of 51.

In perspective, the mayor’s victory margin of more than 50,000 votes was healthy. A look at past mayoral elections will show us how close many of them have been, usually when there is a strong challenge on the Republican, Liberal or Independent lines to counter the Democrats’ overwhelming lead in registration.

The sense of victory was tempered, however, by the inaccurate predictions of honest and reputable pollsters. It would be fascinating to learn why people said they were voting for Bloomberg and then voted for Thompson. Did they change their minds in the last two days? Or were the wrong people in the sample? If anyone is embarrassed, it should be the pollsters, not the candidates or the public who were misled by the reports. Something unusual happened, but what? Thompson would probably have been helped if the voters thought the result would be closer, just as Giuliani was impaired in 1989 by predictions in polls that he would be defeated by Dinkins by a substantial margin, which turned out not to be true.

Mayor Bloomberg won yesterday’s election by 50,342 votes, or 4.6% of the electorate. Here are the results in some prior mayoral races. In 1989, twenty years ago, when Rudy Giuliani first ran for mayor, he lost to David Dinkins by 47.080 votes, a margin of 2.5%. The number of votes cast was much larger in 1989 than in 2009. Four years later, in 1993, Giuliani defeated Mayor Dinkins, then an incumbent, by a margin of 53,581, or 3.0 per cent.

The first mayor in the 20th century to win a third term, Fiorello LaGuardia, was opposed in the 1941 election by Democrat William O’Dwyer, at the time district attorney of Kings County. LaGuardia won, with 1,186,518 votes, or 52.4%. O’Dwyer received 1,054,235 votes, or 46.6%. O’Dwyer was elected mayor in 1945 and re-elected in 1949, but he lasted only eight months into his second term when serious legal problems arose relating to his conduct in office. He was suddenly appointed by President Truman as Ambassador to Mexico. When President Eisenhower succeeded Truman in January 1961, he appointed a new ambassador, but O’Dwyer lingered in the Latin republic until 1960, finding the climate more salubrious.

In 1941, the total number of votes cast for mayor was 2,262,369. By 2009, sixty-eight years later, the total mayoral vote had declined to 1,100,649. That total is LESS THAN HALF the number of votes cast in the LaGuardia – O’Dwyer contest, which took place one month before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In those earlier days, it was not politically incorrect to say who attacked us, nor did we blame ourselves for inducing the attack.

The 1940 census reported the population of New York City to be 7,454,995. The most recent estimate from the City Planning Commission, as of July 1, 2009, gives the population of New York City as 8,363,710. That is an increase of 908,715, or 12.1%, over sixty-nine years. Over approximately the same time, 1941 to 1969, the decline in votes cast for mayor was 51.4%. During that period, the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18, which resulted in an even larger voter pool, so the decline in voting is even more striking. We know many residents today are not American citizens, but are still shocked at the deep decline in votes cast.


The mayoral election yesterday has been widely reported in the daily press. Several excellent articles have appeared, and we link here to a few of them, which provide useful background material about the contests.

The front page of the Daily News is striking, but not all that clear as to its meaning. A large, smiling picture of Mayor Bloomberg, is surrounded by a caption, “Hey, Mike, you won again, so now repay the voter’s trust YOUR LAST SHOT TO DELIVER” The last five words appearing in huge type. An editorial on p26 contains this exhortation:

“This is not a time for standing pat or for taking satisfaction in consolidating past gains, substantial as those have been. This is a time for fresh boldness, unfettered by political sail-trimming.”

That sounds good, but the mayor will be surrounded for four years by people who are out for his job. He cannot expect succor from hungry Democrats, who have now lost full five straight mayoral elections in an overwhelmingly Democratic city. Maybe the way the party chooses its candidates, with each man or woman pretending to be further left than the others, leaves something to be desired in terms of appeal to the entire electorate. When there is a moderate Republican as an alternative, the rush in one direction may be counterproductive.

StarQuest #614 11.04.2009 1125wds

1 comment:

  1. K. Salzman8:03 AM

    On the historical context of voter turnout, when did the current system, of party-only primaries, start? Is there a correlation between a change in primary-voting eligibility and the decline in election participation?

    It's too easy to take the freedoms that we have for granted. I suspect that the "newness" of democracy to a striving immigrant population (1910's to 1960's) boosted voter participation, proportional to the rise from poverty into the middle class. The increase in voter apathy (and resulting shrinking election participation) is as much the result of the freedoms afforded by democracy becoming "less new" to subsequent generations, as it is the frustration of population turned off by the tarnish of political scandal, over-hyping news media, etc.