Primary Colors

Activists Fear Nonparty Elections Will Quash the Minority Vote

In New York, however, the black voting bloc isn't as strong, and a broad "minority bloc"—Asian Americans, African Americans, Hispanics—doesn't really exist. As a result, the strongest bloc in the city is actually made up of white Democrats, who constitute a group of swing voters. In New York, white Dems will break party lines, tossing a Dinkins to anoint a Giuliani—or a Bloomberg.

Numbers aside, the mayor's haste in attempting to alter the city's charter so fundamentally has disturbed his activist critics. Ditching primaries would be the biggest change since the city eliminated the Board of Estimate in 1989. Back then, says Neal Rosenstein, government reform coordinator for NYPIRG (the New York Public Interest Research Group), the city appointed an independent commission with time and resources to study the issue, not one to simply carry out the mayor's mandate. "We'd have trouble endorsing apple pie on the ballot from a committee that lacked independence and time to study the problem," says Rosenstein. "We haven't been convinced, and we're disturbed by reports that it might decrease minority voter turnout and magnify the importance of personal wealth."

Commission's Gartner: "a great opportunity for black, Latino, and Asian American voters"
photo: Cary Conover
Commission's Gartner: "a great opportunity for black, Latino, and Asian American voters"

Neither the activists, the commission, nor the voters may have the final say. In light of New York's past problems with election fairness, any change must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department, because of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Should voters in November move to get rid of primaries, activists will certainly be cleaning their guns for a battle in Washington.

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