Keep parties on ballot, Marshall advises panel

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Queens public officials and civic leaders came out last Thursday against a proposed amendment to the city’s charter that would eliminate partisan primary elections by allowing candidates to run for office without registering their political affiliations.

Borough President Helen Marshall, speaking at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens, criticized the New York City Charter Revision Commission’s initiative, which is likely to be put to a vote on the November ballot, by saying it would hinder the democratic process.

She said political parties allow immigrants unfamiliar with the voting system in Queens to take part in the electoral process by putting forth a platform of ideals — something that would be eliminated if a nonpartisan initiative is ever approved by voters.

“The party system enables voters who do not know the candidates’ positions on every issue — and most voters do not — to have a general sense of what they stand for due to their party affiliations,” Marshall testified in front of the commission. “This is especially true in Queens, which has the largest immigrant community and therefore the most new voters in the city.”

Marshall said previous years of redistricting City Council districts have worked well to bring minorities and women into the political process. She said those achievements would be jeopardized by eliminating partisan elections.

The New York City Charter Revision Commission, an 11-member board appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is likely to make a recommendation by Labor Day that will put forth a proposal to voters asking them to approve the nonpartisan elections initiative.

Three members sitting on the commission live in Queens. including Frank Macchiarola, the chairman.

Bloomberg, who has spearheaded the effort to draft and eventually pass the nonpartisan proposal, conceded to opponents of the measure that he would be willing to implement an approved amendment in the 2009 election — thus eliminating any potential benefits for himself in a potential 2005 re-election bid.

Paul Elliott, spokesman for the commission, said the body is in its second round of required public hearings that will end July 30. He said another round of hearings is likely to be scheduled for August.

Any commission recommendation for a charter amendment on the November ballot must be submitted by Labor Day, Elliott said.

The commission is also considering a proposal to modify how the city buys and purchases goods, known as procurement reform, Elliott said.

Pat Dolan, executive vice president of the Queens Civic Congress, a group of 105 civic groups in the borough, said in her testimony to the commission her organization opposes the nonpartisan elections initiative because it takes the focus away from other, more pressing problems in the city.

“There exists no demonstrable need to play any such proposal for nonpartisan elections on the ballot for this fall and there remains insufficient time for the electorate to consider such a serious, far-reaching proposal this year,” she said. “Rather than focus on nonpartisan elections, it makes more sense to consider how to make the city work better for its residents.”

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156

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