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How Andrew Yang Could End the Political Monopoly in NYC

Created: 23 December, 2020
Updated: 15 August, 2022
5 min read

Author's Note: The following article is not an endorsement piece for Andrew Yang, but an observation of what his presence in the NYC mayoral race could mean for the future of nonpartisan political reform in the city.

Andrew Yang is about to drastically shake up the mayoral race in New York City, and it could be bad news for the Democratic establishment’s control over city elections.

Yang, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, filed for the 2021 election to replace outgoing NYC mayor, Bill de Blasio. NBC 4 in New York reports that he “has the potential to immediately upend a race that was shaping up as a contest between long-entrenched city politicians.”

Yang is once again entering a crowded field of Democratic contenders. This time, however, it is for the top office in the nation’s largest city. A recent poll reportedly shows him with a slight lead in the race.

However, the timing of Yang’s entrance in the mayoral race is interesting for another reason: It comes as some within the Democratic establishment are attempting to suspend the use of or even kill ranked choice voting’s use in the election.

This is important to note because NYC voters overwhelmingly approved the use of ranked choice voting (RCV) for municipal primary elections in November 2019. It wasn’t even a question what voters wanted either as the RCV referendum was approved with a near 3-to-1 margin.

Yet, on the eve of its first use, members of the Democratic establishment are scrambling in an effort to halt RCV’s introduction in NYC elections. The Atlantic reports that this effort includes “the majority leader of the New York City Council and the leaders of its Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus,” and is backed by mayoral candidate and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

“Supporters of ranked-choice voting see the push to stall its implementation as a thinly disguised attempt by members of the Democratic establishment to thwart a reform that would threaten their grip on power by further opening up New York City’s machine politics to newcomers,” writes Russell Berman for The Atlantic. 

“It’s particularly galling, they say, given that the city’s electorate endorsed the change so overwhelmingly a year ago. And supporters of ranked-choice voting say that by filing Hail Mary lawsuits and sowing confusion about how the election will be run, opponents of the system are resorting to ‘Trumpian tactics’ to delay, or deny, the will of New York voters.”

How does Andrew Yang fit into this? He is a prominent supporter of ranked choice voting, for one thing. Yang has spoken several times now about the need for systemic reforms to US elections that foster competition by encouraging new people with fresh ideas to launch campaigns.

Based on coverage of his entry into the race, Yang is already considered a popular figure in NYC. He could prove to be a thorn in the Democratic establishment’s side if he adds to this popularity by defending the will of the people when those who traditionally hold the most power and influence over the process attempt to squash it.

Yang is not an establishment candidate. He brings new ideas to the table that challenge the political status quo and traditional partisan norms. He is the type of candidate who could do well in an RCV election, in which voters rank candidates in order of preference and a majority winner is ensured.

Without RCV, it is all but guaranteed that the winner of the Democratic contest in the mayoral race, in which many people have filed, will end with a winner who gets substantially less than majority support. With RCV, automatic rounds of runoff would be held based on voter preferences until a candidate surpassed 50% of the vote.

It’s easy to see why groups within the partisan establishment would object to giving voters a system that historically has given people greater confidence in the process. When those in power prefer a particular candidate, it is easier to get them elected when they don’t have to compete for as many votes as possible.

RCV in a crowded field of Democrats, the winner of which is likely to be the next mayor, means candidates have to campaign not just for voters’ first choices, but the second, third, even fourth choices of their rivals’ supporters. That gives voters greater voting power and say in the final results.

A state court recently rejected a lawsuit brought by those who seek to halt RCV’s use in NYC. However, plaintiffs in the case plan to appeal, meaning the fight over the alternative voting method will continue. Yang’s presence will further amplify the effort to overturn the 2019 election, and the establishment’s argument that voters are too dumb to make informed decisions.

Yang also supports opening the primary process up to all voters. Currently, both the state and city of New York use closed primary elections, which in NYC denies voters access to taxpayer-funded elections that ultimately decide the city’s leadership. 

“I vastly prefer open primaries. I think having a diversity of perspectives is important,” Yang previously said. “And if you’re trying to win a general election you have to appeal to people that might not already be registered members of your party.”

Open primaries could drastically change the electoral landscape in a city like NYC, which already heavily favors Democratic candidates. Right now, most municipal elections are decided by members of a single political party, thus giving the partisan establishment a huge advantage and incredible control over who is elected.

Combined, both reforms would greatly loosen the grip the Democratic establishment has on NYC elections. Though open primaries are currently not in place, Yang’s influence on the campaign trail and potentially as mayor could help give voters outside the dominant party a greater say in who represents them while fostering an environment that encourages greater competition in local politics.

In other words, Andrew Yang could help end the political monopoly in NYC.