A representative body that doesn't represent.1
FOR MORE than a decade in the nineteen thirties and forties the method of representation in the city legislature was a subject of controversy in New York politics.2 The debate stemmed from a long campaign for electoral reform. Critics charged that the single-member district system of representation in the Board of Aldermen, as elsewhere, often made a mockery of democracy. Under the prevailing method the city was sectioned off into aldermanic districts, and the candidate who won a majority or plurality in each territorial subdivision carried the election. After subjecting the entire process of nomination and election to painstaking analysis, the reformers concluded that serious defects and abuses were inherent in the system.
It was argued that the primary elections lent themselves to control of nomination by the local political machines, while the general elections disfranchised minorities and discouraged independent voting. For two decades the single-member system tended to produce legislative majorities for parties lacking popular majorities; then, as the dominance of a single party was established, it invariably overweighted that party's representation. The annihilation of minorities was undemocratic and created monolithic city government. In the city legislature the minuscular opposition was easily brushed aside, and complaisant majorities failed to check administrative debauchery. A system which permitted a few votes in close districts to turn the scales____________________