Why Local Elections Matter: The Importance of the New York City Council

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Jaymie Paredes

Yasin Karim ‘21 works for Mohammed Mujumder, a candidate in the 18th district’s City Council election next year. “I help manage the other youth volunteers, since everything is so small. I help out in small parts whenever I can be of use, whether it is with some social media, website design, or just filling out forms and filing official papers,” said Karim.

Imagine, for one second, a world where only people in Texas and Florida, 13% of the United States’ population, chose to vote in the presidential election. That would be ridiculous, some would even say laughable. However, it is the exact situation we find in the New York City Council’s elections. 

Take 2017, where the 18th district’s City Council election had an abysmal 13% turnout. By not voting in these local political races, people are giving up their voice in the election that most affects them, because local officials have a far wider range of control over the average New Yorker than any President could ever dream of.

How does the City Council work?  “Every neighborhood in New York City is part of a Council District. There are 51 of these Districts, each represented by an elected Council Member,” as is noted on the City Council website. These select few are normally elected every four years, first through single-party primaries, then a general election with each party’s chosen candidate.

There are two major quirks to these elections: rank choice voting and party fusion. Party fusion is a system where smaller parties can cross-endorse major party candidates. In New York, an example of this is the Working Families Party, a progressive political organization created in the late 1990s in order to support the working class. With party fusion, they can cross endorse the Democratic candidate without fear of splitting the vote.

Rank choice voting, which will take effect in 2021, allows voters to rank up to five candidates from any party. When the lowest voted is eliminated, their votes are redistributed to their second choice, and so on until someone has a majority of the vote. 

Yasin Karim ‘21 and Faika Tabia ‘21 are working for Mohammed Mujumder, a candidate in the 18th district’s City Council election next year.  “Voting in City Council elections means getting your voice and opinions heard, where there is the most direct access to the government,” Karim said. 

The City Council is so influential in New Yorkers’ lives because it has power over the city budget, similar to how Congress has control over national funds. In other words, they control which organizations and departments receive funding from the city. The job of a City Council member is to decide what is most important for their community.

 However, that is not their only responsibility. “The Council has the final vote in which laws are passed and [they choose] who gets appointed as the head of city departments,” said Tabia. The City Council monitors departments like the New York City Department of Education and the New York Police Department, two agencies that are very important to Bronx Science students.

After hearing all of this, the question arises: why are there not more people voting in these incredibly important elections? “There’s always the common rhetoric of ‘My vote won’t matter,’” said Karim. According to a Pew Research Center study, just over 37% of Americans believe that their vote does not make any difference. However, in local elections, this cannot be further from the truth. 

The small size of the districts means that an individual’s vote is incredibly important. For example, imagine if just 2,500 people had voted for the runner up in the 18th district election. Rubén Díaz Sr. would have lost the Democratic primary, which in that district, is essentially the general election.

Another reason why people are reluctant to vote is simply that many just do not know enough about these elections. The solution to this lack of knowledge is simple: “[Spread the word] by social media or by word of mouth,” said Karim. Social media is one of the most powerful tools for change that we have as Americans. People like Jamaal Bowman used these tactics to upset Eliot Engel, the thirty year incumbent for his seat in Congress.

New York City is one of the greatest cities in the world, but it has to be properly represented. If we want our city to thrive, people must vote for their City Council members.

New York City is one of the greatest cities in the world, but it has to be properly represented. If we want our city to thrive, people must vote for their City Council members.

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