If the turmoil of 2020 has provided one important lesson, it is this: in times of crisis, we need dependable government leaders.
In 2021, New York City residents will have the opportunity to choose a new round of leaders in one of the most important local elections in the city’s history.
Voters will choose a new Mayor, Comptroller, at least four Borough Presidents, and two-thirds of City Council positions. As many as 500 candidates could be running.
The 2021 elections will usher in the largest turnover in city government in a generation, and those elected could hold office through 2030.
ElectNYC is a new project of Citizens Union Foundation and Gotham Gazette, with the support of the Ford Foundation, to provide the tools and information New Yorkers need to understand the importance of these elections, to assess the candidates, and to vote.
What is ElectNYC 2021?
Our mission for the 2021 elections is straightforward. We plan to present New Yorkers with no-nonsense, non-partisan information about the candidates in this complex and important election. With shrinking local news coverage and the growth of fake news, our aim is to avoid the political hyperbole in order to provide voters with trustworthy guidance about who the candidates are, how they would run the city and how to cast a vote.
A lot has changed in the last 20 years since the city faced a government turnover of this magnitude. Coverage of campaigns by local newspapers and other media has waned as social media has become the main way people get their news. Much of the public’s attention has understandably turned to Washington. Voters are also exposed to targeted campaign messaging from candidates running in their area.
The absence of such a resource prevents many voters from engaging in informed debates about the future of its government. That ability to assess candidates, especially in these local races, is also particularly difficult for voters from communities where there is no independent press and not much opportunity for public debate.
ElectNYC is a one-stop-shop for the 2021 local election. A website, social media, and on-the-ground campaign to inform, engage, and empower voters to take part in these elections and chart the future of their city, and their communities.
Journalists from Gotham Gazette, researchers from Citizens Union Foundation, and collaborators from across the city will offer original reporting, concise analysis, and other resources to voters. We will also provide simple explainers on public offices so that voters can know what their elected officials can do – and what they cannot do. In partnership with community-based organizations and civic groups, ElectNYC will include debates and local events that encourage participation. Read more about the project here.
Who is developing this?
ElectNYC is a project of Citizens Union Foundation and Gotham Gazette, with the support of the Ford Foundation. As New York’s oldest good government group, Citizens Union has been providing reliable, non-partisan information about local elections and New York City Council for over a century. It is committed to fostering accountability, transparency, and democratic reform in New York government. Among its focus areas are campaign finance reform, ethics standards, greater police accountability, and increased civic engagement.
Gotham Gazette is a pioneering, award-winning online newspaper that covers city and state government, and has a rich tradition of reporting policy that affects everything from the spaces where New Yorkers live and play to police tactics and civil rights. A major source of information for candidates, elected officials, advocates, and City Hall insiders, Gotham Gazette brings New Yorkers illuminating analysis and original investigating reporting.
Why are so many candidates running?
Most of the elected officials in the city government are term-limited under the city’s two-term rule, which was last approved in 2010. Since they cannot run for re-election, that position will be an “open seat”. Open seats usually attract lots of candidates, and with so many lawmakers forced to step aside, there will be as many as 41 open seats at all levels of city government. Some City Council races could attract a dozen candidates. For comparison, in the last local election in New York City there were only 10 open seats.
Ranked Choice Voting
The 2021 election will bring a new way to fill out ballots: Ranked Choice Voting. In this new system, voters can pick up to five candidates, instead of only one, and rank them in order of preference. If no candidate won a majority of the first-choice vote on the first round, the candidate with the lowest number of first-choice votes is eliminated and their votes are then redistributed – until a winner is declared. The city’s move to ranked-choice voting could encourage voters to think about all candidates in the race instead of picking only one. That should give more candidates a chance to be taken seriously.
The City has increased the amount of campaign funding candidates get to match small contributions. New York City’s Campaign Finance Board now matches each $1 a New York City resident gives, up to $250 depending on the office sought, with $8 in public funds. The program makes it easy for more people to run for office with the support of their community. In previous elections, the city provided a $6 to $1 match. That change will almost certainly mean that more candidates can afford to run for office.
In the last few years, there has been a general wave of excitement about local politics. The voter turnout in New York City has increased significantly in the 2018 midterm election and in the 2020 primary election for the state Legislature. A new cohort of young candidates unseated over a dozen long-term incumbents. And the latest protests against police brutality shifted the public’s attention to the City’s budget and its systems of accountability. This renewed interest in local politics is sure to translate into more candidates and more voters.
Why should I care about this election?
While the nation’s attention is focused on the upcoming presidential election, New Yorkers should also look towards the local elections in 2021, which could be just as – if not more – consequential for the city’s future. In addition to such a high number of newly elected officials, given how safe incumbents tend to be, those officials could remain in place until 2030 – a decade of influence.
Not only does the Mayor and City Council approve a budget of around $90 billion annually, guide the education of over a million children, control what will be built and preserved, and shape the safety and well-being of our urban life, they will come into power riding a wave of demands for reform to increase racial justice and equality and seriously address, once and for all, police brutality. Newly elected officials will come into office needing to help the City to either continue to weather the COVID-19 pandemic or recover from it – a process that will take decades.
The “class of 2021” will set the course of our city at a time of enormous change requiring creative, strong and decisive leadership. Who is chosen to lead the City through this time could not be more important.
How can I help?
We are partnering with a variety of community organizations to provide public education and information, organize local debates, and raise awareness on the importance of next year’s elections. We are building a network of partners to help New Yorkers shape their next decade. If you or your organization is interested in collaborating with programming, public education, or hosting debates – contact us at email@example.com.
ElectNYC is supported by the Ford Foundation and other grant organizations, but we need further support to see that this initiative reaches as many New Yorkers as possible. Please consider making a donation to Citizens Union Foundation here.
Please check back for job openings and internship opportunities in ElectNYC.