By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL — More than a dozen of the city's most prominent politicians joined local activists on the steps of City Hall Thursday to protest a pending referendum to authorize nonpartisan elections this fall, saying the change would disenfranchise minority voters.
"It will disadvantage communities of color and communities of working class individuals," said Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, who was joined by Comptroller John Liu, State Sen. Bill Perkins, and City Council members from across Manhattan.
"We're here to say we're not going to let that happen," she said. "New Yorkers won't be fooled."
The Charter Revision Commission is currently considering putting a measure on the ballot asking New Yorkers if they'd like to have nonpartisan votes.
In the measure currently under consideration, all voters, regardless of whether they're registered with a party or not, would vote in a first round of elections. Then the top two candidates from that round would advance to a general election in November, where voters would choose between the two.
Proponents have argued that the change will boost sliding voter participation — something the commission is "deeply concerned" about, Charter Revision Commission Chair Matthew Goldstein has said.
But City Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera said that parties play a crucial role in helping voters choose between candidates. Without parties, he said, there would be no one to mobilize minority and low-income voters, and turnout rates would drop.
Assemblyman Keith Wright said there's no convincing reason to change the way the system works.
"Mayor Bloomberg is dead wrong," he said. "It’s already been proven it doesn’t work."
The mayor has been a long-time proponent of nonpartisan elections and in 2003 spent $7.5 million trying to get the measure passed, the Daily News reported.
Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat spoke passionately about how nonpartisan elections remind him of the one-party system he grew up with in the Dominican Republic, where no opposition was allowed.
"To me it looks like a dictatorship," he said.
Citizens Union, a good-government group, has argued that nonpartisan elections will boost voter participation by opening the process to the 1.4 million people who aren't registered with parties.
The Charter Revision Commission will meet August 11 to announce to the public which issues will appear on the ballot in the fall.
They have already announced that they will include a referendum on whether voters would like to reduce the maximum number of terms politicians can serve from three back to two.