The primary election for the NYC mayoral race is scheduled for September 2013 and from the most recent polls, it looks like we can expect competitive primary elections. In the Democratic primary elections alone, there will be at least 8 candidates in the running. With so many candidates on the ballot, it may not take many votes to determine the outcome of the primary. Although I’m an optimist at heart and I work at an organization dedicated to closing the civic engagement gap among young people, I would be surprised to see young New Yorkers be the ones to actually cast the critical votes.
As a politically active 24-year-old living in New York, it may be surprising that I have such little confidence in my peers and near-peers. The reason for my skepticism: I looked at our voting record. The New York City Campaign Finance Board estimates that only 4% of eligible voters under the age of 30 cast a ballot in 2009 when Mayor Bloomberg won his third term. To be fair, the other age groups didn’t do that much better – in the 2009 general election for mayor, fewer than one in five New Yorkers (18.4%) eligible to vote actually participated in the election. That being said, a 4% voting rate for the under 30 crowd is terrifyingly low since young people in New York have been impacted by Bloomberg’s administration in many ways.
Although Bloomberg may be remembered for some of his more sensationalized initiatives such as the extension of mayoral term limits or the soda ban, his administration has also had a tremendous impact in education, public safety, and NYC’s job market. Under Bloomberg, 32 publicly elected school boards were replaced by centralized mayoral control of the NYC education system. Many new schools have opened over the last few years, but over 160 other schools have been closed or are in the process of being phased out. The high school graduation rate is now at a record high of 65 percent, but only 21 percent of these graduating high school students are adequately prepared for college or well-paying careers. The homicide rate has dropped significantly since 2001 (714 in 2001; 419 in 2012) and public safety has improved in many communities, but there have been over 5 million civilian stops by the NYPD as part of the their controversial stop-and-frisk initiative and an estimated 55% of all individuals stopped were under the age of 25. I could keep listing examples, but the point is simply that young people in New York should care about who becomes their next mayor.
In an effort to engage young New Yorkers in the upcoming election, Generation Citizen has joined an initiative led by the Resilience Advocacy Project to host a youth-led NYC mayoral candidate debate on May 29th. Through an interactive website (www.youthvoicenyc.com), young people from all over the city have been able to submit and vote on questions covering youth employment, housing, education, and even immigration. While the questions may cover a number of topics, they’re all essentially asking the same thing: how will young people fare under the new NYC mayor?
To find out what the candidates have to say to young people all over the city, take a minute to explore the website: www.youthvoicenyc.com. On this site, you can help decide what questions should be posed to the mayoral candidates and then later watch the candidates answer these challenging and relevant questions during the mayoral debate on May 29th at 6:00 pm. And because I’m still hopeful that young people can influence the mayoral elections in a very real way, I have another request: if you’re a New Yorker and haven’t already done so, please register to vote in the upcoming primary and general elections (if you need help registering, check out www.turbovote.org).
~Emily Falk, New York Program Associate