After A Century Of Democratic Rule, Outgoing Albany Common Councilor Floats Non-Partisan Elections | WAMC

After A Century Of Democratic Rule, Outgoing Albany Common Councilor Floats Non-Partisan Elections

Jan 21, 2021

An Albany Common Councilor in his final year after more than two decades in office is proposing a radical change in city politics.

Councilor Richard Conti, elected in 1997, says it’s time for the city to embrace non-partisan elections. Conti says the proposed local law could deter voter apathy in a city of nearly 100,000. He says three quarters of cities nationwide actually have nonpartisan elections.

"It's really, you know, meant to broaden the electorate, I would consider it a, you know, a progressive reform, that's meant to enfranchise more voters. Right now there's really a small portion of the electorate that actually determines, you know, who's elected to office, because we are so dominated as a one-party city in a way, that whoever wins that primary election, which can have a very small voter participation level, in effect wins the election in November de facto, just because it's not a competitive race. And so number of voters, people are really disenfranchised from the electoral process."

Conti thinks more office-seekers would come forward if they didn't have to be dependent on an established political power base. He also thinks younger voters and immigrant populations don't necessarily identify with partisan politics.

Jack McEneny
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Albany historian and former state Assemblyman Jack McEneny says the Democrats got a firm foothold in Albany politics in 1922, effectively locking out Republicans for the last hundred years. He doesn't think Albany is ready to identify as non-partisan.

"I don't think people in this area are as comfortable with it. I don't know where those places are for large cities that Richard Conti mentioned, but I think people are familiar with political labels that they know what they are. And, and also, I think other individuals like governors and county executives and even national government, they kinda like to know where people stand. And I don't think I don't think we're ready for it yet. It's a great discussion. I don't know what happens though. Every two or four years, do you wind up with cults of personality? That rally around an individual we just saw that with Trump?

McEneny thinks the current system maintains a sense of team orientation and political continuity. On Facebook, Conti touted his proposal as "Progressive reform for a stronger democracy." Conti plans to present his proposal to the council tonight.

Second-term Democratic Mayor Kathy Sheehan is running for re-election this year.