Keeping the vote alive

With New York City elections for mayor, comptroller, public advocate and other local positions a month away, Participate in ’09 is in full swing at St. John’s.

Brian Browne, vice president of Government Relations at St. John’s, mentioned that student leaders from College Democrats and College Republicans are actively organizing events to get students involved with the upcoming elections, and that many of these leaders are also running campaigns for candidates.

After launching Participate in ’08, an initiative geared toward raising political awareness and interest among students about last year’s presidential election, the University launched Participate in ’09 to raise awareness about the New York City elections.

Browne explained that while this year’s elections are of a smaller scope, “it is still an immensely important time in our politics where we should build upon the success of last year where so many young voters were engaged in the political process.”

James Pickel, president of College Republicans said that he feels the local elections are as important as last year’s presidential election.

“In 2008, the politics obviously focused on a grand national scale-the presidential election,” he said. “This year’s focus is to show that people aren’t just affected by who wins the presidency. We want to show that even though you might not know now what these politicians technically do, they have an effect on
your life.”

According to the New York City Board of Elections, the mid-September democratic primaries for public advocate and comptroller received more voters than the democratic primary for mayor. 366,917 registered democrats voted in the public advocate primary, 371,018 registered democrats voted in the comptroller primary and 330,659 registered democrats voted in the mayoral primary.

According to a Sept. 16 New York Times article, the democratic primary for mayor had one of the lowest voter turnouts, in modern New York City history, with 11 percent of registered Democrats voting.

William Thompson, the current city comptroller, won the democratic nomination for mayor. He is running against the current mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was first elected to office at the end of 2001 and was re-elected in 2005. In Oct. 2008, the New York City Council voted to extend term limits for many positions including mayor from two to three four-year terms, allowing Bloomberg to run for his third term.

Yesterday, runoff elections were held for the democratic candidates for comptroller (John Liu, a city councilmember from Queens and David Yassky of Brooklyn) and for public advocate (Bill de Blasio, a city councilman and Mark Green, who held the position of public advocate in the 1990s).

Thus far, the Participate in ’09 initiative has held the New York City Comptroller Forum and a Public Advocate forum on Sept. 3 and Sept. 10, respectively. Both events were held in Belson Moot Stadium in the University’s Law School, where students heard from New York City representatives pleaded their cases with the voters.

College Democrats and College Republicans also hosted Constitution Day on Sept.. 17 in the Little Theatre, during which students debated Supreme Court cases that dealt with students’ rights.

“We really try to engage students in the political process, to try to become more civic-minded, and to become more aware of the elections, the issues that affect their lives and those around them,” said Browne.

According to Browne, Participate in ’09 will be bringing other elected officials and speakers to campus as the general election nears.

College Republicans, College Democrats and SGI are also sponsoring voter registration drives on campus until Oct. 9, the deadline for registering in New York State.

“The old cliché ‘all politics are local’ is very much applicable and that’s why it’s important to know what’s going in on in the neighborhoods right around you,” said Browne.

Additional reporting by Christina Heiser