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October 27, 2003
Who's Laughing Now?

New Yorkers who had a great time poking fun at the California recall have discovered that direct democracy isn't even an option in their city:

It started during the summer when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Republican in a heavily Democratic town, placed an initiative on the city's Nov. 4 ballot that would ban partisan local elections. The mayor has contributed $2 million of his own money to pass the measure, which would reduce the traditional clout of the Democratic Party in New York City politics.

He also took steps to block voters from considering an initiative signed by 115,000 residents that would compel the city to form a commission on chronic overcrowding in public schools. Bloomberg, like other mayors before him, invoked a little-known state law that bars other initiatives from appearing on a municipal ballot once a charter-reform measure is placed on it.

The Mayor of New York can veto referendums simply by forming a City Charter Commission and producing a ballot initiative from it, despite how many signatures have been gathered. The governing law on this is decades old and is often used by New York Mayors for this very purpose. Regardless of the merits of Bloomberg's proposal -- and it does seem to have some serious merit -- this process denies voters any mechanism for bypassing ossified political structures in order to address issues important to the electorate.

"It's as if we have no right to direct democracy here, and some people think we're probably too stupid to focus on more than one issue at once," said Wayne Barrett, a New York historian and journalist. "Those of us who believe in real democracy would have to say Californians are now way ahead of us. At least they're alive out there."

It gets messy in California, but at least they have that option of making their voices heard.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 27, 2003 5:43 AM

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