Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Commentary: Can Local Political Organizations Ever Be Restored?

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Commentary: Can Local Political Organizations Ever Be Restored?

Article excerpt

For more than five decades, Edward N. Costikyan has seen the tremendous changes in American politics from a front-row seat.

As a Democratic Party district leader in 1962, the county leader in Manhattan starting in 1964, he saw how the Democrats and Republicans worked from the local level up. They selected and nominated candidates, mobilized voters, financed campaigns, supplied government employees, provided government services and enlisted the support of citizens for candidates and public positions. It had been that way for nearly 200 years.

Now, candidates are selected in primary elections, and pollsters supply the impetus for electing them. Civil service supplies government employees. Business interest and special interest citizen groups provide money, while political parties have become fund- raising tools for campaigns, which rely heavily on mass media.

Some obviously will say this is good, since Republicans have taken over control of the presidency, the U.S. House and Senate, a majority of governorships and numerous legislatures since 1964. Costikyan, however, points out that voter turnout in national elections fell for every age group except those over 65 from 1964 to 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Census. Only 50.1 percent of voting-age Americans cast ballots in 2000. The turnout rose to 59.7 percent in the highly contested election of 2004, but even that was less than 61.9 percent in 1968.

Costikyan, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for mayor in 1977, details the significant American political transformation over the last four decades in his new book, What Happened to the Body Politic: Can It Be Restored? It was published by PublishAmerica of Baltimore. While Costikyan centers on New York, where he was active in the Democratic Party for most of that period, his book indicates extensive ramifications for the whole country.

It is the best explanation I have ever read about how the Democrats and Republicans generated support before 1964, when television and other mass media began to increase their impact on elections in cities and states from coast to coast. For anyone who wants to understand how American politics worked then and now, it's a must. …

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