Putting Democracy in
the People's Hands
By Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
When I appointed a Commission to study changes to the City's Charter, I suggested they propose amending the line of mayoral succession, so that the Deputy Mayor would serve as Acting Mayor for a limited period of time if the Mayor dies while in office or has to leave office prematurely. The Commission considered it, and ultimately, they decided to place a different issue on this year's ballot: holding a special election in sixty days if there's a vacancy in the mayoralty, but leaving the line of succession as it is. I think it makes a lot of sense. Here's why:
If something happens to the Mayor, the voters should be able to choose a replacement as quickly as possible. That's what democracy is all about. And by requiring a special election to be held sixty days after a vacancy occurs, the proposed change to the Charter would put the business of choosing a new Mayor exactly where it belongs: in the people's hands.
Currently, if the Mayor dies while in office or leaves prematurely, the voters may have to wait up to fifteen months until they can elect a new Mayor. By any standard, fifteen months is a long time. In a city as fast-paced as ours, it's a lifetime. With an unelected Mayor at the helm, government operations could suffer, long-term planning could come to a standstill, and a climate of uncertainty would likely prevail. In an ever-changing world where cities compete on a daily basis for jobs, tourists and businesses, the costs of having an unelected Mayor in office for up to fifteen months could be crippling.
Whoever the Mayor is, we will agree with him or her on some issues and disagree on others. Trust me, I know. But as long as the Mayor is elected by the people, we know the system works. That logic, and the faith that supports it, simply falls flat in the case of a long-term interim Mayor who was never chosen for that job by the voters.
At its core, our democracy works better when we fill vacancies through elections, rather than through unelected, long-term interim successors. That's why the City's Charter already mandates that vacancies in every other City office - from the City Council to the Comptroller - be filled by special elections. That reasoning applies to the Office of Mayor more than anywhere else, and it's exactly what the proposed change to the City's Charter would accomplish.
During public hearings in all five boroughs, the public strongly felt that holding a special election in the event of a mayoral vacancy was the right thing to do. I agree. So does every member of the Commission, and so have editorials in newspapers across the City. A relatively small number of people disagree. But the very act of discussing, debating and ultimately voting on an issue or a candidate is what makes our democracy so special. To me, that's why holding a special election and letting the people select a new Mayor if there's a vacancy makes so much sense.
When you head into the voting booth on November 5, please don't forget that this important proposal - one that puts our City's future in your hands - is on the ballot. However you choose to vote, by weighing in on charter reform, you'll reinforce what this proposal is all about: letting the people decide.