Bloomberg: Smith and Halloran are an argument for nonpartisan elections

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Bloomberg in Queens on Tuesday. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg today argued that the U.S. attorney's complaints against State Senator Malcolm Smith and Queens Councilman Dan Halloran present as strong an argument as any for nonpartisan elections in New York City.

"All of this comes out of the fact that we have partisan elections when cities aren't partisan," said Bloomberg today, during a press conference about education in Queens.

Earlier this morning, F.B.I. agents arrested Queens State Senator Malcolm Smith, Queens Councilman Dan Halloran, Queens Republican Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone, and Bronx Republican Chairman Joseph Savino for conspiring to put Smith on the Republican mayoral ballot this year.

In order for Smith, a Democrat who caucuses with the breakaway conference of "independent" Democrats in the State Senate, to run on the Republican line for mayor, he would have to have the approval of three of the city's five Republican chairmen. With the assistance of Halloran, Smith allegedly bribed chairmen to achieve that end.

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"If you go back to 2005, I think it was, I think I spent $7 million of my own money trying to convince everybody that we should have nonpartisan elections," said Bloomberg (who has very much played the partisan game when he's needed to, and contributed millions of dollars to the controversial Independence Party, which provided him a crucial non-major-party line to run on). "We are the only big city in the country that has partisan elections. The only one. ... But I could not get any newspaper or any good government group or any union or anybody to back it."

"Generally speaking, partisan elections deprive the public of the right to pick their own leaders because the only people that vote and the only elections that matter are the fringe group of whether it's one party or another party," he continued. "And maybe they make good choices, maybe they don't. But it's very hard to argue that it is democratic. It is not. And that's where all this craziness comes from."

I asked the mayor what it was about politics that attracted the apparently corruptible, and if there was anything aside from non-partisan elections that might reduce the incidence of corruption in politics.

"I think also—I want to phrase this carefully—I would argue that the bloodsport of trying to destroy people's lives and careers because its fun ... and goes after their families, keeps many people from going into public service," he said. "A good example would be Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney was criticized for firing people, laying off people. He was in the private equity business. There were companies that maybe would have failed, and everybody would have lost their jobs. ...To go and criticize the guy for that is just ridiculous. If anything, you could say, well, at least he had some experience in running an organization and making decisions."

Bloomberg, who endorsed Barack Obama in the general election, had another example that he found even more glaring: the case of Rudy Giuliani, who back when he was mayor performed in drag at an annual roast with reporters only to, in Bloomberg's words, "get blasted all over this country."

"Friends of mine will not go into public service cause they don't want to put their family and themselves in that position, and I don't blame them," said Bloomberg.