Many of the candidates vying for New York City mayor told TPM on Thursday that they oppose a measure being considered by the city council that would allow non-citizens to vote in local elections.
The potential law would allow those who are “lawfully present in the United States” and have lived in the five boroughs for “six months or longer” to vote in local elections.
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who is mulling entering the race but has yet to officially launch a bid, pointed TPM to a campaign guide written when he ran for mayor in 2005 that said he “does not support giving non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.”
“My position hasn’t changed,” Weiner said.
A spokeswoman for ex-Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota, the leading Republican candidate, said he would veto any attempt by the Council to pass non-citizen voting legislation if he were in office.
“Joe believes that you have to be a citizen to vote in this country and as mayor would veto the legislation,” she said.
Former Bronx Borough President and Obama administration official Adolfo Carrion, who is running as an Independence Party candidate and also attempting to secure the Republican Party line, called the legislation “one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.”
“There are very few things that bring me to the point of being almost speechless. This is one of them,” said Carrion. “Being a citizen of the US is a privilege that carries with it an awesome and sacred responsibility-the right to vote. If we water that down, we are essentially removing one of the building blocks of our democracy, let alone violating state law.”
Self-described “homeless advocate,” George McDonald, who is running as a Republican, also said he opposes the non-citizen voting legislation.
“No matter how well intentioned, voting is a right reserved for citizens,” McDonald said.
Billionaire Republican businessman John Catsimatidis said he believes the legislation is “probably unconstitutional” on both the federal and state levels.
“I think it’s a constitutional issue and I think you have to be a citizen to vote. … I think with the council voting on that, maybe it’s a symbolic thing that they want to do on a personal basis, but I think it’s probably unconstitutional,” said Catsimatidis. “The last time I looked, New York City’s still part of our country, the United States of America.”
Only one candidate who talked with TPM said he backed the bill. Democratic former Councilman Sal Albanese was born in Italy and said his experience as an immigrant informed his position on the non-citizen voting legislation.
“As an immigrant myself, I remember what it was like trying to learn the language and to fit in,” Albanese said. “We need to engage immigrants, make sure they have access to services, and get them involved in their neighborhoods. Giving permanent residents the right to vote is a first step toward make that happen.”
Albanese isn’t the only immigrant in the mayoral race. Catsimatidis was born in Greece and Democratic Comptroller John Liu was born in Taiwan.
Liu and two other Democratic candidates, former Comptroller Bill Thompson and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
The current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is against the non-citizen voting legislation. Though Bloomberg has been a prominent advocate of immigration reform, a spokeswoman from his office told TPM he believes, “you should have to go through the process of becoming a citizen and declaring allegiance to this country before being given that right.” Bloomberg also thinks the legislation violates the New York State Constitution. On Thursday, the City Council held a hearing on the legislation and William Heinzen, Bloomberg’s deputy counsel, testified and outlined the mayor’s objections to non-citizen voting.
“Although the administration supports the goals of increasing voter participation and further including non-citizen New Yorkers within the fabric of civic life, we also believe that non-citizens should be encouraged to seek U.S. citizenship in order to participate in the full range of privileges and responsibilities that come with it, including voting rights,” Heinzen said, according to prepared remarks. He also pointed to state election law that he said bans non-citizens from voting.
Though there may be legal challenges to the legislation, it has the support of 34 Council members, enough to override a veto from Bloomberg. The only individual politician who could block the legislation is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Democrat who is currently leading the polls in the mayoral race. As speaker, Quinn could prevent the legislation from getting a vote on the Council floor, a tactic she was accused using against paid sick days legislation. Quinn’s opponents focused on her opposition to paid sick days before a deal was made to pass that legislation in March. A spokesman for Quinn told TPM she was “looking forward to reviewing testimony after the hearing happens.”