April 10, 2004
Bloomberg Voices His Opposition to Voting by Noncitizens
By WINNIE HU
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday that he opposed giving legal immigrants who are not United States citizens the right to vote in New York City elections, putting him at odds with many immigrant groups and others that have been pushing for such a change.
Mayor Bloomberg, who had declined earlier this week to express an opinion on the issue, discussed it at length yesterday on his weekly radio program on WABC-AM.
The mayor said that while he sympathized with the plight of immigrants, particularly those who pay taxes, he still believed that "the essence of citizenship is the right to vote, and you should go about becoming a citizen before you get the right to vote."
"There's been an awful lot of people over the years that have fought and died for the right to vote - for giving you and I the right to vote - and I don't think that we should walk away from that concept," the mayor said. "If you want to have full rights, and voting is a very big part of full rights, become a citizen."
The mayor's stance clashes with that of a number of elected officials, labor unions and community groups who have quietly pushed for extending voting rights to legal immigrants. It may also hurt the mayor, who faces re-election in 2005, with Latino and Asian voters, with whom he has tried to make inroads.
In recent years, immigrants and their advocates have mounted campaigns in other cities for voting rights, including Washington, where Mayor Anthony Williams has said that he supports letting legal immigrants vote in District of Columbia elections. Several towns in Maryland have also let noncitizens vote in local elections.
In New York City, these advocates point out, there is already a historical precedent for immigrant voting. Until the city moved to abolish its school boards two years ago, all residents had the right to vote for members of these boards and to serve on them. But a proposal to open city elections to immigrants was floated a decade ago and failed.
The City Council speaker, Gifford Miller, a Democrat who is expected to challenge the mayor next year, said through a spokesman that he was still studying the legal issues but signaled that he was leaning toward supporting the current law as it is. "The speaker believes that encouraging citizenship is the best way to increase participation in the voting process," said David K. Chai, Mr. Miller's press secretary.
But several City Council members, led by Bill Perkins and John C. Liu, said that they were forging ahead and drafting legislation that they hoped to introduce in the next few months. "This effort is as American as apple pie," Mr. Perkins said. "The tradition of expanding the franchise is one that has been seen over and over again in this country."
Several advocacy groups also criticized the mayor's position as shortsighted and unrealistic given the sheer number of immigrants living in the city. By some estimates, there are about a million legal immigrants of voting age who are not citizens. Others sided with Mayor Bloomberg, saying that they, too, felt that giving newcomers the right to vote would undermine the notion of citizenship.
"The mayor couldn't have said it any better," said Michael Long, chairman of the New York State Conservative Party. "I think he's right on target. Citizenship is something you have to earn, and work for."
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company