Statement by Cathy Stewart
Citywide Coordinator, New York City Independence Party
December 12, 2012
This morning’s Daily News raises issues concerning the integrity of the New York City Independence Party’s County Committees. According to the Daily News’ Special Editorial Series, the County Committees were constructed through “deceptions perpetrated on the electoral process.” This specific charge will be addressed in detail in the second part of this statement.
County Committees, Democracy and Local Control
The County Committees are the sole vehicle for local control of the affairs of the New York City Independence Party. Since the Independence Party was founded in 1994, the New York City organizations have been the democracy wing of the party. There has been an intense fight within the Independence Party over the issue of whether local party organizations would control their own nominations or have those nominations dictated to them by the state party. The State Chairman, Frank MacKay, succeeded in abolishing local control everywhere in the state except in New York City. The New York Court of Appeals has upheld the right of the five county committee organizations of the Independence Party in our city to approve citywide candidates from other parties who seek to run on our line.
The record of the New York City organizations of the Independence Party is clear–we have fought long and hard for the passage of Nonpartisan Municipal Elections (an issue the Daily News editorial board says it endorses) and other nonpartisan reforms that move power away from the political parties and towards the voters. We have supported Mayor Mike Bloomberg in his three elections for mayor, ushering in an era of nonpartisan governance for the city. These values are hardly nefarious, and hardly in the self-interest of an alleged small clique seeking to maintain top down control, as the Daily News insists.
The New York City Independence Party prizes voter involvement and makes every effort to be in regular touch with our membership. This begins with our biannual New Member campaigns where volunteers and staff personally telephone people new to the Independence Party in the five boroughs to welcome them into the party. Contrary to the Daily News’ assertion that we are looking to deceive voters, we’re actually looking to organize them. Our welcome call tells them about the principles of the Independence Party and our fight for political reforms that would reduce the power of the political parties, including the Independence Party itself. In fact, we are known as the anti-party party, since those reforms would effectively put us out of business.
We invite new members to receive our regular email updates and to participate in the vibrant volunteer life of the party. We try to reach every new member that we have a phone number for and succeed in reaching several hundred in each campaign. In addition, over the course of the year, we speak with thousands of Independence Party members in every community of our city. Ask anyone who has ever spent time in our phone rooms, or stopped by our monthly volunteer phonathons where dozens of new volunteers get on the phones to speak to fellow independents. We do ongoing phone and email outreach, asking members to join in our campaigns for political reform and inviting them to attend our various forums and activities. The Daily News corroborates this when it reports how a member, Nannette Keogh of Queens, complained of getting too many calls from the party!
How Our County Committees Are Organized
The Daily News alleges in its special investigative report that members were placed on the Committees without their knowledge or consent. This is not the case.
Here’s what actually took place. In February, 2012 each member of the 2010 County Committee was sent a letter asking them to continue to serve. A similar letter went to persons not already serving on a Committee who had indicated a desire in our phone calling and member outreach in 2010 and 2011 to serve on a new 2012 Committee. We gave people the option to decline, and some dozens did so. They were not designated (placed on a designating petition) for the 2012 Committee. We also received over one hundred and fifty letters back in the mail as undeliverable. Those people were not designated either. In addition, in 2012 members were invited to join the County Committees through our phone operation. Those members who said yes had their names placed on a designating petition.
Our outreach to Independence Party members is hardly consistent with a supposed stealth operation that drafts people for county committee without their knowledge. If during one of our calls a person indicated that they no longer wished to serve on the County Committee, they were not designated. Though the Daily News presents Nannette Keogh as an unwilling candidate, she actually was not designated for the County Committee in 2012.
No court has established guidelines for a County Committee organizing process. There is no provision in the State Election Law or regulations that require permission before a person can be designated for public or party office, and no guidelines as to what constitutes permission. However, the New York City Independence Party did not intentionally run anyone for County Committee without their knowledge and permission. The New York City Independence Party process is more rigorous than anything contained in the election law.
The second step in the process is the circulation of designating petitions which commenced on June 5th of this year. Scores of Independence Party members invested thousands of hours, setting up appointments and going door to door to obtain the requisite number of signatures to run our slates of members for County Committee in all five boroughs. On July 12th, 2012 designating petitions were filed for 3,270 persons for specified election districts. In addition, other Independence Party members also filed petitions for the County Committees. If no other person was designated for that district, New York Election Law counts a person for whom a petition was filed as elected to the County Committee.
After the petition drive, the New York City Independence Party prepared for the required organizational meeting in each county. Every Independence Party member for whom a designating petition was filed with the Board of Elections received a mailing of notice for the organizational meeting in their borough. Independence Party volunteers and citywide executive committee members then got back on the phones and asked people to give their proxy for the meeting if they could not attend. The necessary number of proxies was obtained from members to insure that a quorum was present. Of the 3,270 persons we elected to the five County Committees, 934 (28%) signed proxies.
The five county organizations that make up the New York City Independence Party are legally constituted, active and engaged, something every democracy-minded New Yorker, regardless of party affiliation, can be proud of.