Voters in New York are often deprived a real choice in elections because of gerrymandered districts that allows one party to dominate, elected officials who act to protect their own power and ambitions by undermining their own party members, and local party organizations that fail to run credible candidates.
One of the biggest political earthquakes occurred in Queens when political newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated the powerful Joseph Crowley in their primary. The 28-year-old is now poised to become the youngest member of Congress, bringing her proud socialist views to Capitol Hill because the Queens Republican Party — believing it couldn’t beat Crowley — took a dive on the race.
In a district with a strong incumbent that has a 6–1 democratic voter enrollment advantage, perhaps one could excuse the local GOP. But, the job of the two major parties is to field and support candidates offering voters a choice. With Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory and far-left views, a credible opponent would have provided a stark contrast.
Political parties must always put their best foot forward for voters because you never know when circumstances will create a more competitive race.
Another example of the dynamics of a race unexpectedly changing occurred when Republican Congressman Chris Collins, who represents the Buffalo area, was just indicted on insider-trading charges. Collins suspended his re-election campaign and I am sure local Democrats are wishing they had a stronger candidate than Nate McMurray, a local town supervisor who has raised little money. They assumed Collins was a shoo-in because President Trump carried the district by 24 points and Collins was re-elected by a whopping 34 points in 2016.
Getting back to Queens, the hapless Republican opponent to Ocasio-Cortez is Anthony Pappas, a professor who has no social media presence and has not even filed the appropriate paperwork to raise funds for a campaign. Talk about a sacrificial lamb!
The Queens GOP has a long history of political in-fighting, mainly between different factions in the northern and southern part of the borough. A truce was worked out after former Congressman Bob Turner took over the party as chairman after his district was gerrymandered out of existence. Turner worked to bring all sides together and build the party from the bottom up.
However, Councilman Eric Ulrich, now the only elected Republican in the borough, orchestrated an underhanded coup to replace Turner last year with his puppet, JoAnne Ariola.
Power, control, and ambition can get in the way of what voters deserve — real choices. In this case, Ulrich’s quest to get Turner, a GOP statesman who would not blindly follow his marching orders, out of the way, has trickled down negatively to this race.
The goal should be to increase competition and choices in elections. In addition to local party organizations doing their jobs and running candidates trying to win, and elected officials supporting others in their respective parties, adopting an Independent Redistricting Commission and Non-Partisan elections in New York would help meet this challenge.
Currently, after the census is conducted every 10 years, our state legislature draws the districts of state senators and assembly members, as well as members of Congress. Political deals are made in Albany so districts are safely Republican or Democrat, leaving only a few that could be competitive.
An Independent Redistricting Commission limits the participation of elected officials and is a body with the authority to draw district lines for these seats. Twenty-one states have some form of these commissions. These districts are not gerrymandered for partisan advantage, and local political parties put up credible opponents since the outcome is less certain. Another benefit of not having districts controlled by one party is that the extremes — either on the right or left — will not be able to exert as much influence.
Non-partisan elections would also ensure more competition. No political party affiliation is shown on the ballot next to the candidate’s name. The party influence would be reduced and candidates would have to rely on making a more direct case to the voters.
Bob Capano is the chairman of the Brooklyn Reform Party. He served as district chief of staff to Congressman Bob Turner from 2011 to 2013.
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