Last time we checked, we live in a democracy. In fact, our country prides itself on being the progenitor and exporter of democratic ideals. But you wouldn’t suspect this based on how the national (and New York) Democratic Party has been behaving lately.
Democracy, by our definition, offers citizens strong choices and vibrant debates on ideas and policies, not uncontested primaries or people appointed to high office by one unelected leader.
Democracy requires—should even demand—that a sizable majority of eligible voters come to the polls to pick their leaders. Instead, in New York lately, we’ve seen our top officials picked by less than 10 percent of the eligible populace. Or, worse yet, by succession or appointment.
What are we doing wrong? Many things, but three things stand out in our mind.
First, we need to encourage more of our best and brightest minds to seek elected office, and that means turning away from “gotcha politics” that seek to expose the private foibles or “flip flops” of those who are thrust into the public glare. Humans are imperfect; elected leaders, perhaps sometimes more so. And we all have a right to have our opinions evolve or even change.
Second, we need to demand that political parties have real primaries—that means at least two or more viable candidates debating their vision so voters have a choice at the polls. The only reason President Obama was a strong candidate in November was because he was toughened up by a competitive primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. Why would he and his aides and Sen. Charles Schumer now forget that important lesson?
Finally, we desperately need to make the act of voting more accessible and user-friendly. There should be two days of voting, for example, and one of these should be a weekend election day, so people don’t have to cut into their work day to vote. And there must be a way in the near future to allow secured digital voting; this will ensure greater turnout and also engage a new generation of voters in this sacred right.
Now let’s go from the theoretical to the concrete: Andrew Cuomo should announce immediately that he’s running for governor. Nothing against Gov. David Paterson, who has of late picked up his game somewhat, but there needs to be a vigorous debate about this state’s future and who is the right leader to get us through these difficult financial times.
Nassau County Executive Steve Levy should also challenge the incumbent. And Chris Collins and Rick Lazio (and hopefully others) should give GOP voters a choice. The more candidates debating and giving voters options, the better.
Finally, Harold Ford should be applauded, not derided, for showing the courage to contemplate seeking statewide office. The Senate seat from New York, formerly held by such greats as Patrick Moynihan and Hillary Clinton, is a very important one. And although Kristin Gillibrand is working hard and has done some impressive things so far, she nevertheless deserves a primary challenge to test her mettle for what will likely be a stiff GOP challenge.
So, run Andrew and Harold, run. The governor’s race and the Senate race are too important to limit our choices and have a coronation.
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