« AnteriorContinuar »
The Elimination of National Party Desig
nations from Municipal Ballots.
ROBERT TREAT PAINE, Jr., Boston.
The National Municipal League has, from its foundation, been interested in this question of the interference in municipal affairs of national party organizations. Inevitably a student of municipal conditions is at once brought face to face with the evils resulting from this intrusion. It is a fundamental problem in municipal reform. President Roosevelt said that, "the worst evils that affect our local government arise from and are the inevitable result of the mixing up of the city affairs with the party politics of the nation and the state. The lines upon which national parties divide have no necessary connection with the business of the city; such connections open the way to countless schemes of plunder and civic corruption.”
This conclusion those most intimately concerned with municipal misgovernment are forced to adopt. At the National Conference for Good City Government at Philadelphia, January 25 and 26, 1894, it was unanimously resolved that "it is vital to the attainment of good municipal government that national politics should be divorced from city elections and the administration of city affairs." At the United Cities Conference in Chicago in January, 1906, delegates from the municipal leagues and civic clubs and good government associations from sixteen of the largest cities of the country discussed the separation of national party politics from municipal elections and unanimously resolved in favor of complete separation.
In Boston the Finance Commission, perhaps as fine a body of able and disinterested citizens as ever devoted themselves for nearly two years to the study of the conditions affecting a great city, found that it was necessary to abolish partisanship in municipal government. Boston had tried the system of nomination by party conventions and found its abuses so intolerable that it had
been abolished in favor of direct party primaries. The result, according to the Commission, is a partisanship of ward organi
zations, calling themselves Republican or DemoBoston Finance
cratic, as the case may be, but representing no Commission
municipal policies capable of formulation, and Report
it states that the present electoral machinery is wholly unsuited to the requirements of successful municipal government through popular suffrage. Instead of bringing the choice of candidates nearer to the people it has erected well-nigh insurmountable barriers between the individual voter and the free selection to which he is entitled, and which he must have before he can discharge his duty as a citizen. It has made it artificially difficult to secure good nominations; it has debarred the best and most representative citizens from participation in the government; it has increased the power of money in elections; it has practically handed the city over to the ward politicians. It tends to create bad government, no matter how strongly the people may desire good government; and to discredit the capacity of the people when congregated together in great cities to administer their municipal affairs.” 1
Not only are the evil effects of national party interference felt by the municipalities, but too often they are highly detrimental to the national parties themselves.
Root, when Secretary of State, apparently imParties
pelled by the disastrous condition of party afAdversely Affected
fairs in Philadelphia, said, “It is my profound
conviction that a determined effort is necessary to save national parties from the demoralization inevitably consequent upon municipal spoliation, and, as a Republican, zealous for the welfare and reputation of my party, I advocate the foundation of a non-partisan civic movement.”
National party organizations endeavor to divert city patronage to support of their organizations. Municipal issues are subordinated to their own selfish purposes. The hostile party organizations even combine to defeat an independent citizens' movement and the bosses play into each other's hands. The dominant ma
1 Report of January, 1909, p. 23.
chine often subsidizes or debauches with crumbs of patronage the minority, supposedly its rival, but in reality a devil's advocate.
Politicians claim that control of city governments is necessary to the strength of the national party organizations. This I deny. If it were true, still it would be unwise to sacrifice for such purpose the welfare of our cities. It is, however, not true. Rather is the reverse true. Tammany's administration of New York City has been rather in the nature of a millstone for the Democratic party. The Republican machine's management of Philadelphia has more than once helped to defeat the Republican state ticket.
No party monopolizes control of cities. To deprive both parties of such control as they divide between themselves of the different cities would not materially affect their relative standing and strength, even from the politician's and spoilsman's point of view. To divorce both parties entirely from city government would purify their management, elevate their standards and augment the respect for them on the part of the community.
Therefore, the removal of this evil of national party control of city government, while an essential part of, and a condition precedent to, the improvement of city administration, would help and not injure, in their proper sphere, the national party organizations themselves. The ward politician, the spoilsman, will, by virtue of his very nature, oppose such reform, but those who care for their party's true welfare should eagerly welcome it.
One step forward has been very generally taken. Municipal elections have been separated in time from the national or state
elections. Such separation of elections is an esSeparation of Blections
sential step, but of itself does not solve the prob
lem nor go to the root of the matter. Philadelphia and Chicago and St. Louis are sufficient examples that merely to change municipal elections to the winter or to the spring—thus separating them from state or national elections by an interval of several months, does not prevent a national party organization from participating in the city election and attempting to control the city, through and for the benefit of, its party organization. In New York for over a dozen years there has been an interval of a year between these conflicting
elections. Marked improvement has resulted, but Tammany is still active and always in the game.
This change from the old system, when all elections took place on the same day, has brought such relief and has at least offered so much stronger a fighting chance that many have seemed to acquiesce in it as a final and sufficient step. The adoption of a further and more drastic remedy will depend, in a measure, on whether the evil should be, in our judgment, merely moderated, or, on the other hand, be extirpated; whether the need calls for the application of the surgeon's knife or merely the use of some soothing lotion. If national partisanship is the source and cause of evil, it should be removed altogether. No half-way measures should be advocated. This cause of evil should be stamped out and eradicated, like any other source of pollution in cities.
Even where municipal elections come in different months of the year from the state or national elections the cities have been generally in the power of the national party organization. Only when the administration has been more unsatisfactory and disgusting than usual have the people revolted and defeated the regular and dominant party organizations. These upheavals of civic virtue and indignation have been spasmodic in their appearance and temporary in their results. Only an unusual combination of causes and conditions is able to produce this overthrow of the bosses and the machines. All too soon the latter recover their supremacy.
Of course, in any final analysis, the people themselves are directly responsible. While they are not free from blame, a
juster understanding discloses how, in large Appeal of the
measure, they are practically helpless. The Party Label
election machinery handicaps the individual and favors the organized body. The party label, with its appeal strengthened by the attachments of a lifetime, hopelessly divides, and ranges in hostile camps, the great body of good citizens and diverts their attention from the essential issues at stake the local issues. Only when citizens are unusually aroused by civic mismanagement and corruption to act independently of parties to act as citizens-do they succeed in overthrowing the party machines and ousting them from civic control. The ephemeral
nature of a reform victory is explained by the fact that, the bad men having been put out of office, the individual party man returns to his former party allegiance. Under such conditions good civic government is bound to be an exception and not the rule. It will be the latter only when the conditions are so changed as to induce citizens to vote as citizens and with reference to local issues, rather than as mere units in great national organizations. To do this, to permit citizens to fight with more than a chance of an occasional success against these great organizations, which remind one of the robber barons who, in mediæval ages, lived, by plunder, off the neighboring country, it is necessary to ostrasize, to banish these extraneous, disintegrating and evil-breeding organizations.
Grand Rapids, Michigan, is entitled to much of the honor for inaugurating the attempt to get rid of national politics in her mu
nicipal elections. By an act of the legislature Trying the Experiment
in 1903, a board of library commissioners was
established. They were to be nominated by petition and be voted for on the ballot without reference to party. An excellent commission was obtained and the plan worked so well that in 1905, in the new charter of the city, the principle was applied to the election of the board of education. The results were most desirable. Availing themselves of the advisory initiative, a popular petition caused a charter amendment providing for non-partisan primary elections of all city officers to be submitted for an expression of opinion at the regular election November 6, 1906. The non-partisan plan was approved by 8,865 to 3,350, carrying every precinct in the city. The legislature, however, refused to grant this request for an amendment to their charter and insisted on the maintenance of the existing partisan machinery.
Fresno, California, was, like many another city, suffering from partisan and bi-partisan misrule and corruption. Under the
charter of 1900 the recognition of both parties Municipal NonPartisanship
in the appointive offices was compulsory. At a
special election, February 13, 1905, the radical step was taken of approving an amendment to the charter by which the general laws were to apply to the election of mayor