Volume 22, Number 12 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 7 - 13, 2009
Letting Downtown choose a candidate
New York’s arcane and partisan election procedures have long been a national embarrassment. Almost a decade before John McCain became the Republican Party’s establishment figure, we remember him demonstrating in New York as he compared our election system to the Kremlin because party leaders were initially able to block his access to the ballot in his primary run against George W. Bush. He had a point. Recent election developments in Lower Manhattan prove that not much has changed.
There are five Democratic candidates running to be the next councilmember Downtown and the only one who has been denied a place on the September 15 primary ballot by the city Board of Elections is incumbent Alan Gerson, who has collected about 7,000 signatures — that’s 6,100 more than is required. Gerson has lived almost his whole life at 505 LaGuardia Pl. but some of his petitions listed his address at non-existent 1505. His campaign’s efforts to correct that mistake appears to have led to another equally persnickety one and the B.O.E. — which by design is evenly partisan between Democrats and Republicans and in actuality is a threat to democracy — has refused to consider his case anymore.
Gerson is now fighting in court and expects to get a place on the ballot next week. We hope so because any other result would be unfair to Downtown’s voters. It is up to the people to decide whether Gerson deserves four more years, not partisan hacks or judges. Does anyone really believe that on those many pages of 7,000 signatures, there are not at least 900 registered Democrats living in the First District who signed up to put Gerson on the ballot?
It’s hard to blame the other candidates for trying to knock people off the ballot. They are just playing by the warped rules that they were given. It is well known in New York political circles that you must get at least two or three times the number of signatures needed because it is very easy to have signatures thrown out in challenges. Why shouldn’t voters be allowed to sign more than one candidate’s petition? Must they choose who they are supporting before the campaign begins?
An irony in this race is the candidate who had the shakiest petitions, Arthur Gregory, is completely safe now from challenges. Gregory only had a few extra hundred signatures and acknowledged to us that some were from people who did not live in the district. Because the challenge to his submission was filed a day late, the Board of Elections placed him on the ballot this week after denying him a spot. It may be just as well because close calls should be made in favor of giving the voters more choice.
There needs to be some baseline hurdle to get on the ballot — voters are not served by choosing between hundreds of candidates — but it should not be as arduous as it is now. The state should look around the country to see the systems that work well in order to reform the election laws. The rules should be simple enough so candidates don’t have to waste time with election lawyers and can focus on the issues.
That’s what we want to do, which is why we have organized a candidates’ forum on Mon., Aug. 17 at Pace University at 7 p.m. We’ll have more details on this in next week’s issue. In the meantime, we hope the courts will give the voters a chance to decide this race.