LOCAL ELECTIONS AND LOCAL DEMOCRACY
In democratic theory the most meaningful link between the preferences of a government's constituents and its policy decisions is the election of those with political authority. The citizenry translates its policy preferences into municipal action by electing leaders who promise to pursue policies that reflect their objectives.
But to make this theory work, certain conditions must be met. First, a local constitution must define public offices that have sufficient authority to change policy and are filled by election. Second, the elections for these offices must be competitive, that is, candidates with opposing views must have a realistic chance of victory. Third, the citizens themselves must support their preferences by voting in an informed manner.
The thesis of this chapter is that New York City's local political system often fails to meet these conditions. Its constitution, the Charter of the City of New York, does create a few elected offices with sufficient power to change policy. But the contests for filling the available elected positions, both powerful and not, are often noncompetitive. Finally, the citizens fail to vote in relatively large numbers, and their scarcer votes increasingly are based on values and policy preferences unrelated to the decisions municipal officials are empowered to make.