The Broken System: An Opinion on November’s Mayoral Election
Recently, our city re-elected mayor Bill De Blasio, an individual who will be tasked with solving many pressing and complex issues. De Blasio was first elected four years ago, after twelve years under the Bloomberg Administration. During that campaign, De Blasio ran on a strong liberal platform, aiming to address income inequality and the struggling education system. Following up on some of his campaign promises, De Blasio made efforts to create affordable housing, freeze rents city-wide, and develop tax reforms that heavily fine the wealthy. He established Pre-K For All, a program that ensures all New Yorkers have a chance to attend Pre-K. However, four years later, many feel that the changes De Blasio strived to implement have not been produced. New problems have also arisen under his administration, including an increased amount of homeless citizens living on the streets, as well as the well chronicled issues with the MTA.
This article will not be a criticism of any of the candidates or their policies, but rather a critique of the system that re-elected De Blasio a few weeks ago. In my opinion, there are multiple faults embedded within the system; enabling little to no progress to be achieved without any consequence to the incumbent mayor. The shortage of qualified options, lack of voter knowledge and participation, and disparity of funding have all contributed to a system that seems rigged against new and unknown candidates.
Dating back to 1993, when Rudy Giuliani narrowly outlasted incumbent David Dinkins in the mayoral election, every electoral cycle has seen the incumbent mayor remain in office. Contrary to the belief that this would occur due to our city’s strong liberal population, for twenty of the last twenty-four years the mayor has been a conservative. While the office has not changed hands, these elections, and even the primaries, have for the most part been competitive. However, the same cannot be said for this current election cycle.
The Republican primary was won by state assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who ran unopposed. In the Democratic Primary, De Blasio easily cruised past the rest of the field, winning nearly 75% of the vote. The general election between the two primary victors, Democratic runner-up Sal Albanese, and former NYPD detective Bo Dietl was also a no contest.
The fact that Bo Dietl was able to garner any attention and support in his campaign is almost comical. In case you were not aware, Bo Dietl is the short, bald guy in the Arby’s commercials talking about their reuben sandwiches with his thick New York accent. The lack of good, competitive choices was the result of a system that is in dire need of change.
In order for a candidate to gain popularity and become relevant, they need campaign funds to spread their message. Erland Zygmuntowicz, a long time history teacher at Packer, furthered this claim, by stating, “Who gets in the conversation and who gets attention has to deal with financing.”
Funding for most candidates is typically small. Furthermore, one candidate typically receives a lot of special interest money from Super PACs and unions, whose support was made possible through the Citizens United court decision, which deemed spending money to influence an election to be an expression of free speech. This problem is amplified in De Blasio’s case, as he was under investigation for his fundraising practices earlier this year. The NYC campaign finance problem worsens the disparity, by enabling incumbents like De Blasio to receive large amounts of money due to their name recognition. De Blasio received $2.8 million from this program, which rewards candidates for receiving donations from average New Yorkers. This privilege is not nearly afforded to other candidates, who struggle to compete financially.
Due to a lack of funding, other candidates are not able to spread their message; and consequently, go into election day relatively unknown by New Yorkers. Less than a week out from the general election, a poll of NYC voters found that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed did not know enough about either Malliotakis or Dietl to form an opinion on them.
The disparity in awareness of candidates was something Mr. Zygmuntowicz highlighted as being very important, “At any election at any level, there’s a certain advantage to the incumbent, being name recognition.” For these candidates and others, their only chance to make an impression and gain support is through good performances in the virtually unwatched debates.
This was echoed by Mr. Zygmuntowicz while discussing the debates, “Some of the points being brought up by the challengers were good points, but they don’t have enough of a public base.” Combining this with an extremely low voter turnout enables incumbents to easily win re-election.
Re-electing a mayor is not always bad. However, when the mayor has a low approval rating and has not met many of his goals, he should not be given a free ticket for re-election. The current system stalls progress and enables incumbents to be complacent with their body of work. This stands in stark contrast to the truly American notion that competition is healthy. We have a competitive economy and system of education. So why should our political elections not profit from the same competition?