Welcome to the latest edition of this NYC election-focused newsletter. I’m journalist Felipe De La Hoz, and yesterday marked the first of two debates where mayoral hopefuls Eric Adams, the Democratic candidate, and Curtis Sliwa, the Republican (with whom we’ve chatted for this very newsletter) went head-to-head. The hour-long discussion, moderated by reporters from WNBC, Telemundo 47, and Politico New York, was a rare moment of Adams being forced to reckon with his opponent, who he has otherwise generally disregarded, largely owing to the polling suggesting he will trounce Sliwa in the November 2 general election.
The ever-bombastic Sliwa hurled a number of barbs, including frequent accusations that Adams was a political creature beholden to donors and acting in furtherance of complex political machines. While it is true that Adams certainly has been laying the groundwork for this run for the better part of two decades, and certainly has had chummy relationships with unsavory political figures, Sliwa himself has been a political gadfly for at least as long and has a rather checkered history, including litanies of false and inflated statements about his exploits. As he memorably told me at the end of our interview, “I don’t trust politicians and nobody should trust me. Because the moment that I kissed my first baby and shook my first hand, I’m a politician.”
Adams mostly took the disparagement in stride and with an air of bemusement, though he didn’t exactly sail through. In one of the debate’s most jarring moments, Adams appeared not to know about the specifics of proposals and counter-proposals to assist taxi medallion-owners mired in untenable debt; when directly asked about the issue, he bizarrely alluded to drivers using apps to compete with ride-hail companies and dodged any discussion of the $65 million city aid fund and its detractors.
Ultimately, Adams did okay and Sliwa punched above his weight, deploying his characteristic bravado but managing to avoid being too cartoonish. At this stage, though, it’s doubtful that it will matter. Adams has a glide path to victory, and would really have to slip up or erupt into scandal to change that.
Early voting begins this Saturday, Oct. 23, and voting early is a great way to avoid potential election-day lines and get it out of the way. You can find your poll site location at the Board of Elections’ portal. While we’ve certainly talked a lot about the consequential mayoral election, which will dictate the city’s chief executive at a time of immense challenges and crisis recovery, it’s not the only choice voters will see on their ballots. They will also pick a public advocate, a comptroller, and depending on where they live, a City Council candidate (we previously alluded to the District 32 seat around Queens’ Ozone Park as one of the only truly competitive general election races in the city), a borough president, and their district attorney.
One of the lesser-discussed selections voters will make is around ballot initiatives, essentially questions of public policies put directly to the public to vote yes or no on (one of our few examples of direct, rather than representative, democracy). These are all potential shifts to the state constitution, the most contentious of which is probably the first, which contemplates several changes to the state’s representative system and redistricting.
Redistricting Commission’s draft plans for Congress, State Senate, and State Assembly. Photo: nyirc.gov
First, some background: as part of an earlier ballot proposal in 2014, voters approved the creation of something called the New York Independent Redistricting Commission. This hasn’t really been relevant in the interim period because redistricting only happens once every 10 years, following the decennial U.S. Census. That took place in 2020, meaning that the time has come again for the state to redraw its districts. This time, instead of the legislature taking point, the commission is the first to draw proposed maps. Despite its name, however, four commissioners are appointed each by the state’s Democratic and Republican legislative leaders, and these commissioners in turn appoint two additional members. Predictably, the map-drawing has become a partisan exercise, with the commission releasing two vastly different preliminary maps.
There’s still a ways to go before the maps are finalized, but if the legislature ends up rejecting them, then it again becomes lawmakers’ responsibility to draw the state and federal districts that will shape politics for a decade. Currently, the rules state that, if a single party controls both houses of the state legislature, as the Democrats currently do, they then need a two-thirds vote in both houses to approve the maps. Proposal 1 would change this to require a simple majority, which has inflamed Republicans who claim that this is an effort for Democrats to consolidate power over the process. Among the proposal’s other salient changes would be capping the number of state senators at 63 and specifying that incarcerated people should be counted in the places where they last resided, not where they’re incarcerated. Given that the changes are all rolled into one proposal, voters will have to either completely vote it up or completely vote it down.
Photo: Jesse Orrico
Proposal 2 is much simpler, more-so about enshrining a particular right than tweaking government processes. If enacted, it would establish New Yorkers’ right to “clean air and water, and a healthful environment,” purposefully plain language meant to be on par with rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s impossible to predict for sure exactly how it would play out if approved, but presumably it could be used in policymaking and litigation against polluters and legislative efforts that may harm the environment.
Proposal 3 would remove the current 10-day pre-election voter registration deadline, paving the way for same-day voter registration (in line with many other states), and Proposal 4 would remove requirements for absentee ballots to be justified, opening up a path for permanent use of the no-excuse absentee voting measures we saw during the pandemic. Proposal 5 would increase the jurisdiction of New York City Civil Courts, from only hearing cases involving claims worth up to $25,000 to those up to $50,000. This may sound overly technical, but it could enable more civil disputes to be resolved in the existing municipal court system without having to be escalated.