NEW YORK CITY, August 25, 2003 - Let us bring this meeting to order.
Tonight, as we deliberate and eventually vote as a body on the issues before us, we are closing the first chapter on the life of this commission.
At the same time we are beginning anew the public dialogue about the proper function of government; the people’s access to government; and the accountability of a government to its residents, communities and families.
Let me just take the one policy matter that has fueled much of the public attention surrounding the work of this commission: Whether a system of elections that allows any and every registered voter to cast their vote for any candidate who runs in the primary, regardless of whether the words Democrat, Republican, or no party at all, appears beneath the candidate's name on the ballot should be put to the voters going to the polls this November.
Nonpartisan elections would place the decision as to who should advance to the general election in the hands of the entire voting population, not just those of one Party.
Speaking more directly; should voters be given an opportunity to decide if the current system of elections is meeting their needs?
And if we agree that New Yorkers should be given the chance to decide whether the current system of elections is effective or not; Are there alternatives that we the members of the Charter Revision Commission could offer to these voters that would deliver to them more choices and bring them closer to a local government that is effectively responsive to their political, economic and social needs?
Tonight we sit at an historic place and time in the history of this great City.
Each of us has the ability to hand the voters of this City the chance to be more directly tied to their democracy.
We -- the majority of us who inherently trust the people to decide their own future and who simultaneously believe that communities, interest groups and political parties will not only survive, but endure and thrive under an enhanced elections system – must not shrink from the great responsibility bestowed to us.
Since the formation of this Commission, we have all heard the criticism: we are wrong; there is no public outcry for this kind of change; not enough research and study has been performed; this commission’s work was preordained; we have existed simply to rubber stamp the wishes of the current Mayor; non-white voters will suffer a reduction in political clout and influence; extremist candidates outside of the philosophical mainstream will distort their views and opinions in order to succeed in a system that doesn’t require candidates to plainly state their political affiliation.
We are wrong and the Commission’s process has been flawed is the essence of the criticism that we have heard from the very start.
All of the doomsayers and naysayer who said that party labels matter still oppose the proposal that we are voting on tonight.
Their refusal to consider our proposal does not reflect well on their interest in reform.
If their arguments are meaningful, they must overcome what we know to be the certain improvements that, by definition, will result from nonpartisan elections:
It will expand voting opportunities and increase participation. The fastest growing group of voters, who now number nearly 700,000, will be able to participate in the election that matters. Republicans and third party members, who number a nearly additional 700,000, will also be able to cast a more meaningful vote. Who among the critics are against equal voting rights and increased voter participation?
It will improve access to the ballot by making it easier to for candidates to gather signatures and for citizens to participate as signatories. Who among the critics are against enhancing ballot access?
It will result in more competitive general elections. Right now, with a few exceptions, general elections are meaningless and we are wasting public matching funds -- at a time when the city is in a fiscal crisis -- on too many elections that are actually decided in party primaries. Who among the critics are against competitive general elections that offer real choice?
It will level the playing field in the race for public matching funds. Currently, Democratic candidates can receive twice the amount in matching funds as their general election opponents, who almost never face primary elections. Who among the critics is against a level playing field?
And finally, it will better reflect the preferences of the voters. We know that under nonpartisan elections, candidates will no longer be able to squeak into office by winning 20 percent of a primary election that features low turnout. Who among the critics are against elections that express the will of the majority?
If we believe our critics are correct on any one point, or on all their points, we must cast our votes with them and put aside the matter of creating a more democratic system of elections for another time and for those more courageous than ourselves.
If we are wrong and they are right, we must not devote any more energy and thought to how might we connect more New Yorkers directly to their government.
However, let their be no mistake about our responsibility in dealing with the matter of election reform; there is no middle ground here, either we believe the current system of elections is in need of repair or we don’t.
Either we are prepared to act on our convictions tonight and hand the final decision to the voters or, in predicting that such a move will only intensify the fury of the opposition, we adjourn until another set of New Yorkers can be found to pickup the struggle of expanding the voting franchise for more New Yorkers.
Tonight we cast our votes for the people who are today voiceless and left out as result of a political system that has become a vehicle of the elites who use it for personal interest and private ambitions.
As we go forward tonight, let us reaffirm our faith in the democracy we practice and have brought to life as result of our work and time on this Commission. Tonight we cast our votes for the generations that are to come after us.
Finally, it has been an honor to serve in the pursuit of the public interest with each and every one of you.
Each of you, in your own extraordinary way, has made an invaluable contribution to the work and life of this commission as we have tackled the weighty issues of procurement reform, government re-organization and reform of municipal elections.
Thank you and now, let us begin.