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Charter Panel Keeps Political Primary Discussion Alive

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Mayor Bloomberg's Charter Revision Commission discussed the possibility of doing away with political primaries Monday as they wrapped up their series of public hearings on Staten Island. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a big booster of doing away with party primaries and establishing a new nonpartisan election system in New York City.

"Our current system, in a practical sense, disenfranchises the vast majority of people in this city. It is not democracy in the way the founding fathers envisioned it," said the mayor.

In a heavily Democratic city like New York, many races are effectively decided in the Democratic primary. But only registered Democrats can vote in those elections.

A proposal to establish nonpartisan primaries open to all voters went down in flames in 2003. But as the city's Charter Revision Commission winds down its work, the idea is getting some last minute consideration. A majority of commissioners have signaled an openness to the idea, but it's not yet clear whether voters will have a chance to weigh in on nonpartisan elections this November.

"Over the next week or so we are going to make a determination of whether nonpartisan elections will be one of the items that will be brought in the November election," said Charter Revision Commission Chairman Matthew Goldstein.

What is clear at this point is that putting a nonpartisan election proposal on the ballot will spark a fight with some powerful political forces. Many Democratic politicians are staunchly opposed to ending the party primary system and argue that nonpartisan elections would advantage wealthy candidates.

"The whole notion of nonpartisan elections, to me, is like the big bang. It creates tremendous emotional response, wherever you are on the question," Goldstein said.

The commission chairman spoke at length about the issue Monday, but did not endorse nonpartisan elections.

"I think the real question among most commissioners is is this the right proposal and most importantly, is this the right time?" said Charter Revision Commission Member Hope Cohen.

A leading government advocacy group, Citizens Union, is pushing the commission to take action.

"We need to do something now to reinvigorate the voters, to give them the choices they demand. The reason they don't participate now is because they know their votes don't matter," said Dick Dadey of Citizens Union.

The commission is scheduled to vote at its next meeting on August 11 on the issues it wants to put on the ballot this fall. New Yorkers can be sure that between now and then those in favor and opposed to nonpartisan elections will be lobbying the commission.

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