Independents’ Day?


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Third-party and independent candidates hope to disrupt this week’s City Council elections


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  • Rachel Honig is among a few independent candidates seeking to upend the two-party system and win a City Council seat in the November 7 general election.



BY MICHAEL GAROFALO

Though slightly more than 20 percent of active New York City voters are unaffiliated with either major party, those disenchanted with the two-party system currently have no foothold in the 51-member City Council, which is currently composed of 47 Democrats and three Republicans, with one seat vacant. But despite (or, perhaps, because of) the Democratic dominance of the local legislature, this year’s slate of City Council elections features a crop of independent and third-party candidates — seeking office on assorted party lines and platforms, and with varied reasons for running outside the major party establishment — hoping to break the two-party mold.

Despite the Council’s current makeup, successful third-party Council bids are not unheard of. In 2003, to cite one notable recent example, Letitia James, now the city’s public advocate and a Democrat, successfully ran for City Council on the Working Families line, defeating a Democratic rival in the general election.

CONTINUED MOMENTUM

Rachel Honig finished third in the District 4 Democratic primary to winner Keith Powers, who will represent the party on the general election ballot. Honig, however, has continued her campaign to represent the East Side district as the nominee of the Liberal Party of New York.

Honig sought out the Liberal Party line during the Democratic primary campaign and secured it after meeting with leaders of the party, which supports candidates “on the basis of merit, independence and progressive viewpoints regardless of party affiliation.”

(New York is one of a handful of states that permit candidates to run on more than one party line. Rosenthal, for example, is the nominee of both the Democratic and Working Families parties in Council District 6.)

“I could have not run in the Democratic primary, but the way the system works, you would lose the opportunity for any exposure and momentum,” she said.

One focus of Honig’s campaign has been attracting voters dissatisfied with Mayor Bill de Blasio, who she says has been “largely invisible” in the district. “There’s a real demand for a Democrat who’s not beholden to the mayor, who’s a more independent thinker,” she said.

“I would tell the voters of District 4 that the most important vote is going to be for their City Council person,” Honig added. “Because the mayor is likely going to win, and the Council is designed to be a check on the mayor.”

Powers and Honig will face Republican Rebecca Harary in the general election for the seat held by Dan Garodnick, who is prevented by term limits from seeking reelection. Though both Garodnick and his predecessor, Eva Moskowitz, are Democrats, the district elected a Republican Council member as recently as the 1990s. “There is an inappropriate presumption in New York that a Democratic nominee is as good as in,” Honig said.

SURMOUNTING ‘INSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGES’

District 6 candidate Bill Raudenbush initially planned to mount a primary challenge Democratic incumbent Helen Rosenthal for her Upper West Side Council seat, and even began collecting signatures from registered Democrats, but ultimately decided to run as an unaffiliated independent in the general election. “I was just about done with the conduct of the de Blasio administration and the Democrats in City Hall,” Raudenbush said.

“The real appeal about to running as an independent, I’ve always thought, is that you get to be a clear, moral voice,” he said. “You get to go to City Hall and say either I agree or disagree on a given issue. Your arm can’t be twisted as much, but it also puts you in a position of responsibility.”

Though Raudenbush considers himself a Democrat, he said that the party is “just not that relevant” in local politics, especially in a body as dominated by one party as the 51-member Council.

On the campaign trail, Raudenbush has found that most voters aren’t particularly concerned with party affiliation. “Only one out of every 20 or so voters asks what party I am,” he said. “People want to hear specific answers and solutions to specific problems.”

More difficult, he said, have been “institutional challenges” that independents face, citing less media interest and fewer debates during the general election cycle as compared to the primary on the heavily Democratic Upper West Side. “The free coverage, like debates, really matters,” he said.

For those reasons, Raudenbush, who remains a registered Democrat, said he would probably run in the party primary if he could do things over, but maintain his “independent spirit.” Still, he said, running as an independent has been “an incredibly positive experience.”

A SINGLE VOTE FOR A SECOND CHANCE

Not all third-party bids are premeditated. District 1 candidate Christopher Marte, who lost narrowly to incumbent Margaret Chin in the Democratic primary, was able to continue his campaign in the general election due to good fortune and the idiosyncrasies of New York election law.

Marte, a first time office-seeker and Lower East Side native, ran for the Democratic nomination on a message of blocking overdevelopment and preserving affordability in the downtown district, but fell roughly 200 votes short of Chin, who is seeking her third term. Initial results were close enough to require a hand count of absentee and affidavit ballots at the Board of Elections. The hand count confirmed that Marte had lost the Democratic nomination, but also revealed that he had earned a second chance to challenge Chin in November as the nominee of the Independence Party.

The Independence Party of New York boasts the largest membership of any third party in the state — due in part, critics have said, to significant number of voters mistakenly registering for the Independence Party while actually intending to be recognized as unaffiliated independents. The party didn’t field a candidate for the District 1 council seat this year, leaving the nomination open for registered members to write in their choices on the ballot on Primary Day. Marte emerged as the Independence Party’s choice — with five votes to Chin’s four.

Though Marte said he remains “and will always be” a Democrat, he welcomed the unexpected nomination as “a miracle of an opportunity” to build upon his primary results.

“It was a total fluke,” Marte told Straus News at an October press conference announcing his continued candidacy. “We didn’t know the party line was even open, and I believe many of those people who went to go vote thought they were Democrats, but then realized that they weren’t and just wrote my name in.”

Aaron Foldenauer, an attorney who finished third to Chin and Marte in the Democratic primary, is also continuing his campaign in the general election as a third-party candidate. Foldenauer will appear on the ballot on the Liberal Party line.

SHAKING UP CONVENTION

Conventional wisdom holds that District 3 Council Member Corey Johnson will cruise to reelection in the Nov. 7 general election. Johnson didn’t face a challenge in the Democratic primary, and his general election campaign has attracted less attention than his bid to become the Council’s next speaker. But upstart candidate Marni Halasa hopes her bid to unseat Johnson will “shake New York City politics up.”

Halasa’s resumé features many entries — lawyer, journalist and figure skating coach among them — but she is perhaps best known for her work as a “theatrical activist,” donning fanciful costumes to take part in what she describes as “crazy political performance art” at protests and rallies for progressive causes. “Protesting is a great way to spread the message, but I got a little bit tired of being on the outside,” she said. “People take you more seriously when you’re running to approach things from the inside. It’s new way of relating to people.”

Halasa recently left the Democratic Party (“Because of how they treated Bernie Sanders,” she explained, referencing instances of alleged bias shown to the former presidential candidate by the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign) and is running for Council on the Eco Justice line, a party of her own creation with a platform that she says is modeled on that of the Green Party.

“Given the obvious political dysfunction of the two-party system, voters want new ideas from new faces who can take things in a different direction by putting the community first,” she said.

Halasa, who criticizes Johnson for accepting campaign contributions from donors with ties to the real estate industry and not doing enough to curb gentrification in the West Side district, said that she hopes to take up the Small Business Jobs Survival Act and promote publicly financed campaigns. She also hopes to create an infrastructure for other “activists and ordinary people on the outside” to run for elected office, rather than candidates drafted from political clubs. “It doesn’t have to be ‘the way it is,’” she said. “You can change it.”


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