Op-Ed: Special Election Process Needs Reform Now!

Down here in Sheepshead Bay, there’s not much reason for us to know Lincoln Restler’s name. He’s a progressive upstart who upset the entrenched Democratic clubs in Northern Brooklyn by running a grassroots campaign for District Leader, and has been consistently critical of the party in his attempts to reform it. You could think of him as He-Man to Vito Lopez’s Skeletor. Or maybe Tenderheart Bear to Lopez’s Professor Coldheart. Whatever.

Anyway, Restler is now joining a slew of others in condemning the special election process – and particularly the power of the party bosses to handpick the candidates – in the wake of Anthony Weiner’s resignation. In it, he explains how special elections work, and gives several examples in which the peoples’ preferred candidates were denied in order to reward loyal Democratic club members. Here’s an excerpt:

The sexting and lies aside, Weiner’s resignation paved the way for a special election on Sep. 13 which empowers the chairman of the Queens County Democratic Party, not Brooklyn voters, to designate the Democratic nominee for Congress. Since we live in an overwhelmingly Democratic borough, the party boss’ selection basically guarantees the election.
But Weiner is just the tip of the iceberg. There are currently six vacancies in the New York State Legislature. According to a study by Citizens Union, by the end of 2011, one-third of our state representatives will be selected via special election. This farce of a process ensures that legislators are more loyal to the party bosses than their own constituents.
In recent weeks, editorial boards and good governance groups alike have come out against the corrupt special election process, which gives party bosses singular influence in selecting the candidates for a special election. Currently, the law allows the local political machine to select their nominee. When there is a vacancy in a district which includes multiple counties, such as Weiner’s Congressional District, the Democratic Party bosses from the affected counties — in this case Brooklyn’s disgraced party boss Assemblyman Vito Lopez and Queens Congressman Joe Crowley — select the candidate. Since Queens is home to the majority of the district, Congressman Crowley had full authority to make his own choice. This is how Democrats ended up with Assemblyman David Weprin, widely praised for his “loyalty” to the Queens machine, rather than any variety of qualities we might hope for in our newest Member of Congress.

Read the full piece in the Brooklyn Paper.