OPINION: A strong two-party system needed to put more excitement into local politics
As of now, the Democrats have taken control of the New York Senate.
If state Sen. Marty Golden loses his recount, the only Republican elected official left in Brooklyn will be Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis (R-Bay Ridge-Staten Island), despite the efforts of the powerful Bay Ridge Republican machine.
In Queens, one Republican, Eric Ulrich, represents the Rockaways, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and nearby areas in the City Council.
As a Democrat myself, I am glad that Democratic officials such as U.S. Rep. Max Rose and state Sen. Andrew Gounardes have triumphed. Yet, the fact that the Republican Party in New York City isn’t particularly strong outside Bay Ridge, the Russian community of Brighton Beach, Gerritsen Beach, northeast Queens and Staten Island is not necessarily a healthy development.
To develop a healthy, vibrant political culture, any city or county needs a two-party system, with lots of debating back and forth between the two sides. Otherwise, politics becomes dull and will turn off quite a few people in general.
For example, in my district, U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler wins elections consistently with more than 80 percent of the vote. I support Nadler and his agenda, for the most part, but this situation means that I’m not that likely to spend my spare time standing on the corner, seeking signatures to put Nadler on the ballot.
The presence of a vibrant two-party system keeps elected officials on their toes. Look at the large number of elected officials — from both sides of the aisle — in Brooklyn and Queens who have been indicted for corruption during the past 10 or so years.
In Brooklyn, one can point to former state Sen. Carl Kruger, former state Sen. John Sampson and former Assemblymember Pamela Harris, all Democrats, and former U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm, a Staten Island Republican who represented part of Brooklyn, among others. In Queens, we can look to former City Council Member Dan Halloran, a Republican; former state Sen. Malcolm Smith and Assemblymember William Scarborough, both Democrats, and others.
And, of course, let’s not forget the “biggest daddy” of them all, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat and one of New York state’s celebrated “three men in a room” who decided state policy behind closed doors year after year.
It’s possible that if all of these officials knew they had to face vigorous opposition from the opposing party, which might want to dig up dirt on them, they might have thought twice about committing their crimes.
The almost-complete dominance of one particular party in any area also leads to complacency and boredom and turns some people, especially young people, off to the political process. For example, in my district, U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler always wins the election with a huge lead over his Republican challenger. While I, as a Democrat, support Nadler on almost every issue, I’m not going to feel enthusiastic if asked to spend an afternoon gathering signatures for him.
A robust two-party system would not only inspire people to get out and work for their favorite candidate, it would keep incumbents on their toes and draw more young people into active politics.
To fellow Democrats who would despair of having a well-financed and more visible Republican challenger in their neighborhood, I would say that you have nothing to fear if you believe your message is a better one. You just have to work a little harder.
Ideally, I would prefer the implementation of proportional representation of the type you see in Europe. In today’s New York, the Working Families Party mainly gives people another line on which to vote Democrat, and the Conservative Party mainly gives people another line on which to vote Republican. But imagine a proportional representation system with several strong parties: the Democratic Party, the Working Families Party, the Republican Party, the Conservative Party — even the Green Party. Then you’d see some real excitement!
But that’s a topic for another day and, I fear, for the far, far future.
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