Defining Democracy: Electoral Reform and the Struggle for Power in New York City

Hardcover | February 12, 2013

byDaniel O. Prosterman

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In 1936, New Yorkers approved a radical change in local democracy. By a margin of nearly two to one, they replaced the corrupt board of aldermen with a city council elected via proportional representation (PR). Rather than traditional winner-take-all elections between two candidatesrepresenting two political parties, PR allowed voters to rank candidates on their ballots in order of preference and guaranteed victory to anyone polling more than 75,000 votes. This system enabled the election of the most diverse legislatures in New York's history, comprised of the city's firstAfrican American legislators and unprecedented numbers of women and third-party representatives. With their authority threatened, the Democratic and Republican parties allied against PR and the system's coalition of supporters. Following several unsuccessful repeal attempts led by the two majorparties, the election of two Communists spurred a groundswell of red-baiting that set the stage for a battle that would define New York City governance for generations.Defining Democracy examines struggles over electoral reform in New York City to clarify our understanding of democracy's evolution in the United States and the world. In the midst of global crises concerning the purpose and power of government during the Great Depression, Second World War, and earlyCold War, New Yorkers debated the meaning of self-rule in the United States. In a series of campaigns over the expansion of voting rights in New York City, activists challenged the boundaries of who could be elected, what interests could be represented, and ultimately what policies could beimplemented at the local level.

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In 1936, New Yorkers approved a radical change in local democracy. By a margin of nearly two to one, they replaced the corrupt board of aldermen with a city council elected via proportional representation (PR). Rather than traditional winner-take-all elections between two candidatesrepresenting two political parties, PR allowed voters ...

Daniel O. Prosterman is Assistant Professor of History at Salem College in North Carolina.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:288 pages, 9.25 × 6.12 × 0.98 inPublished:February 12, 2013Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195377737

ISBN - 13:9780195377736

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Perils and Promise of Democratic Reform1. The Politics of Electoral Reform in New York City History2. Restructuring Urban Democracy Amid the Great Depression3. Proportional Representation and the Practice of Democracy in New York City4. "Under the Cloak of Patriotism": Specters of Totalitarianism in City Politics5. A Red (in the) City Hall6. The Democratic-Republican Alliance and the Repeal of Proportional RepresentationEpilogue: Repeal's AftermathNotesBibliographyIndex