Let's Change The Primary Date!

I had been planning to post an argument that we should move New York’s Primary date but today’s New York Sun shows that Chris Owens, Yvette Clarke, Jonathan Tasini and of all people Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver beat me to it.

Silver, in fact, has co-sponsored a bill to move the Primary to the 3rd Thursday in June.

The argument in that because the media has, and presumably will continue to focus so much on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks and there is now such much pressure on candidates never to campaign on September 11th, turnout in the Primary is depressed.

First, a little history.

New York Primaries have no always been held in September.

The Republicans who then controlled the Governor’s office, the State Senate and Assembly, changed the Primary date in 1974 in a crass political move.

Their theory was that Democrats were more likely to have bitter primary contests and that the short time between September & November did not give the Party enough time to kiss and make up.

It didn’t work that year as the Democrats after the September Primary elected Hugh Carey as Governor and took over the Assembly but it has been true in other years (1980 and 1984 US Senate, 2001 NYC Mayor)) that a nasty September Primary has helped the Republicans.

The Republicans called the change to September temporary and the Primary in 1977 was supposed to be moved back to June.

But Governor Carey showed that Democrats can manipulate the dates just like the GOP.

Abe Beame was the Mayor running for re-election that year. Carey thought Beame was incompetent and not able to lead the City during the fiscal crisis. The polls showed the leading opponent to Beame to be Bella Abzug, who Carey probably thought was even worse than Beame.

The opponent who Carey privately preferred, Ed Koch was running next to last in the polls and Carey thought Koch could not catch up.

So in March, Carey forced through legislation making the September Primary date permanent with the idea that with more time, he could not only talk another candidate into the race but with the additional time Carey could help that candidate win the later Primary.

And it worked, sort of.

Mario Cuomo entered the race with Carey’s support but didn’t win. Carey’s now second choice Ed Koch did and he probably would not have won in June.

The closest to a serious effort to move the Primary back to June came in 1981 when Mayor Ed Koch lobbied the legislature to do so.

That effort failed as civil rights groups claimed that such a change required approval by the Justice Department and the New York Times Editorial (which had previously favored a June Primary) opposed a change making the valid argument that it would be changing the rules in the middle of the game.

Which brings us to now.

Assuming Eliot Spitzer wins, maybe he and Silver can push through a change in the date to June in the first month of 2007. The Justice Department would have time to approve the changes and candidates planning to run in 2007 (which is as close to an off year with very few election contests as we’ll ever see) can’t really say that they will disadvantaged by the change.

So what do you say readers of Room 8. Let’s contact our State legislators and get them to move the Primary date!