Characteristics of New York City mayoral elections
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|Elections in New York State|
The elections of the Mayor of New York City involve a combination of factors that are not seen together elsewhere.
New York City is the largest city in the United States, with a population (8,244,910 according to the 2011 estimate by the US Census Bureau) greater than that of many states. Its mayoral elections, accordingly, attract great attention.
Special circumstances in New York go beyond the sheer size of the electorate. As in other cities, class, ethnicity, and race have played a role in mayoral relations.
In New York, fusion is allowed: a candidate may be endorsed by more than one party, and run on several lines. As a consequence, New York has had and continues to have a larger number of influential third and fourth and fifth parties than elsewhere in the United States.
New York also has a history of significant votes for the Socialist Party candidate, and other socialist and left-wing candidates. While not unique in the United States, this does help explain the unique fabric in New York.
New York has a long history of tension between reform and clubhouse candidates. This is partially understood in terms of the size of the city and the correspondingly large number of patronage jobs available.
The Mayor of the City of New York is elected in early November every four years and takes office at the beginning of the following year. The City which elects the Mayor as its chief executive consists of the five New York Boroughs of Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, which consolidated to form "Greater" New York on January 1, 1898.
The consolidated City's first Mayor, Robert A. Van Wyck, was elected with other municipal officers in November 1897. Mayoral Elections had previously been held since 1834 by the City of Brooklyn and the smaller, unconsolidated City of New York (Manhattan plus part of The Bronx).
Some basic patterns of mayoral elections in New York City
Democrats, Republicans, and reformers
One pattern, stretching back well before consolidation and lasting into the 1960s, is the conflict between, on one side, Tammany Hall, the Democratic political organization largely built on political patronage with a consequent deep skepticism about Civil Service, the merit system of assigning government jobs, and competitive bidding for city contracts, and on the other hand, its various opponents, including Republicans, businessmen opposed to taxation or extorted bribes, middle-class reformers and labor union activists.
Until the election of Fiorello H. La Guardia in 1933, it was almost never possible to unite the disparate anti-Tammany elements in a coalition strong enough to prevail for more than one election. (This was not only for negative reasons: Tammany could listen to and satisfy some of its opponents' needs, and could on occasion run candidates of undoubted quality, such as Abram Hewitt to oppose Henry George's United Labor Party in 1886. ) In the reported words of the Tammany leader George Washington Plunkitt, reformers were only "mornin' glories —- looked lovely in the mornin' and withered up in a short time, while the regular machines went on flourishin' forever, like fine old oaks.".
Quite apart from Tammany Hall itself, both Republicans and left-wing reform parties have always had to deal with the overwhelmingly Democratic sympathies of New York City's voters. An examination of the election table below will show that neither the various Socialist and labor parties nor the Republicans were ever strong enough to elect a Mayor alone without the support, or at least the benign non-hostility, of other parties and independents.
Fusion, second ballot lines, and third parties
The local term for uniting several constituencies or movements against Tammany was Fusion, which usually required the Republicans to abstain from competing with a non-Republican reform candidate (as in the elections of Seth Low in 1901 and John P. Mitchel in 1913). Later the unusual ability of New York candidates to combine (fuse) votes from several different parties allowed Republicans and Democrats to run their own reform candidates on third party lines, such as "Fusion", American Labor, Liberal, Conservative and Independence. In fact, no Republican has ever been elected Mayor of consolidated New York without the support of at least one other significant party, from LaGuardia to the ex-Democrat Michael Bloomberg. See the Statistical Appendix for other examples.
Even when a candidate could not gain another party's support, he often found it expedient to create a separate line or party name for independent voters to support him, such as "Recovery" (Joseph V. McKee in 1933), "Anticommunist" (Jeremiah Mahoney in 1937), "Experience" (Vincent Impellitteri in 1950) or "Brotherhood" (Robert F. Wagner, Jr. in 1961). In 1965, Rep. John V. Lindsay (R-Liberal) won votes on the "Independent Citizens" line, while his opponent Comptroller Abe Beame (D) won additional votes for "Civil Service Fusion".
Although granting or withholding endorsement was an effective tool for a minor party to influence a candidate's policies and actions, it could sometimes lead to counter-pressure from those who felt that candidates were being swayed too far in the wrong direction. This was one of the main reasons for founding the Conservative Party of New York in 1962 by those upset at the liberalism of Republican Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller and (later) Lindsay, against whose 1965 Mayoral campaign the Conservatives ran William F. Buckley, Jr.
More recently, there has been a trend of reformers working not through third parties (such as the now-dormant Liberals) but through Reform Democratic clubs, leading to lively internal contests such as the 1989 Democratic primary where David Dinkins unseated incumbent Mayor Edward Koch who started his own political career in a Reform Democratic Club. On the other side, however, dissatisfied conservatives have created their own new parties outside the Republican Party, such as the New York State Right to Life Party and the Independence Party of New York.
Not all of these patterns will necessarily continue to hold in the future (while Tammany Hall has never revived), but these are a few of the old patterns from which new patterns will emerge. History is often made by breaking those patterns and assumed rules, but these are some of the patterns that held, changed and sometimes returned again.
Principal candidates' city-wide vote since 1897
This is a summary of the detailed results to be found in the main article, New York City mayoral elections, where many original sources are noted. This table is reproduced here to save the reader the inconvenience of constantly referring back to the main article.
Votes in thousands for principal candidates only, generally those winning more than 4.0% (1/25) of the total vote. (Therefore, low votes may not be shown in a particular year for an otherwise significant party, such as Socialist or Conservative. For some of the lesser left-wing candidates before 1945, see The Rise and Fall of the Socialist Vote for Mayor.) Winner in bold-face in a colored box.
To determine the meaning of abbreviations, click the link or check the list below this table. (Different first names, initials and nicknames may be used for the same person purely to fit the available space.)
Abbreviations used in this table: F or Fu. = Fusion, I or Ind. = Independent, Indep. Citizens = Independent Citizens (1965), Ind Fu = Independent Fusion (1993), Ind'ce = Independence Party of New York, L or Lib. = Liberal Party of New York, C or Cons. = Conservative Party of New York, ALP = American Labor Party, S or Soc. = Socialist Party of America, NP = Non-Partisan, Wkg Fam = Working Families Party, Prog = Progressive, Jeff D = The Democracy of Thomas Jefferson (Henry George, 1897), Muni. Ownership League = Municipal Ownership League, Civic All. = Civic Alliance (Hearst 1909), Anticomm. = Anticommunist (Mahoney 1937), Exp = Experience party (Impellitteri's label for his independent campaign in 1950)
- Elections in New York (state)
- History of New York City
- List of mayors of New York City
- Politics of New York
- Morris Hillquit wrote in 1910, "The movement assumed such proportions that the old parties took alarm and sought to offset the popularity of George by nominating the strongest available candidates at the head of their tickets. The Democrats nominated the noted philanthropist and son-in-law of Peter Cooper, Abram S. Hewitt, while the Republicans nominated Theodore Roosevelt, then a young and promising politician." History of Socialism in the United States (1971 Dover reprint), page 252, ISBN 0-486-22767-7
- Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, as recorded by William Riordon (1963 edition), Project Gutenberg text, Chapter 4
- "Ed Koch" in Centennial Classroom: NYC Mayors the first 100 years