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Characteristics of New York City mayoral elections


Characteristics of New York City mayoral elections

The elections of the Mayor of New York City involve a combination of factors that are not seen together elsewhere.

New York City is the largest city in the United States, with a population (8,244,910 according to the 2011 estimate by the US Census Bureau) greater than that of many states. Its mayoral elections, accordingly, attract great attention.

Special circumstances in New York go beyond the sheer size of the electorate. As in other cities, class, ethnicity, and race have played a role in mayoral relations.

In New York, fusion is allowed: a candidate may be endorsed by more than one party, and run on several lines. As a consequence, New York has had and continues to have a larger number of influential third and fourth and fifth parties than elsewhere in the United States.

New York also has a history of significant votes for the Socialist Party candidate, and other socialist and left-wing candidates. While not unique in the United States, this does help explain the unique fabric in New York.

New York has a long history of tension between reform and clubhouse candidates. This is partially understood in terms of the size of the city and the correspondingly large number of patronage jobs available.


  • Background 1
  • Some Basic Patterns of Mayoral Elections in New York City 2
    • Democrats, Republicans and Reformers 2.1
    • Fusion, second ballot lines and third parties 2.2
    • Remarks 2.3
  • Statistical Appendix 3
    • Principal candidates' City-wide vote since 1897 3.1
  • References 4
  • See also 5


The Mayor of the City of New York is elected in early November every four years and takes office at the beginning of the following year. The City which elects the Mayor as its chief executive consists of the five New York Boroughs of Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, which consolidated to form "Greater" New York on January 1, 1898.

The consolidated City's first Mayor, Robert A. Van Wyck, was elected with other municipal officers in November 1897. Mayoral Elections had previously been held since 1834 by the City of Brooklyn and the smaller, unconsolidated City of New York (Manhattan plus part of The Bronx).

Some Basic Patterns of Mayoral Elections in New York City

Democrats, Republicans and Reformers

One pattern, stretching back well before consolidation and lasting into the 1960s, is the conflict between, on one side, political patronage with a consequent deep skepticism about Civil Service, the merit system of assigning government jobs, and competitive bidding for city contracts, and on the other hand, its various opponents, including Republicans, businessmen opposed to taxation or extorted bribes, middle-class reformers and labor union activists.

Until the election of [2]

Quite apart from Tammany Hall itself, both Republicans and left-wing reform parties have always had to deal with the overwhelmingly Democratic sympathies of New York City's voters. An examination of the election table below will show that neither the various Socialist and labor parties nor the Republicans were ever strong enough to elect a Mayor alone without the support, or at least the benign non-hostility, of other parties and independents.

Fusion, second ballot lines and third parties

The local term for uniting several constituencies or movements against Tammany was Fusion, which usually required the Republicans to abstain from competing with a non-Republican reform candidate (as in the elections of Seth Low in 1901 and John P. Mitchel in 1913). Later the unusual ability of New York candidates to combine (fuse) votes from several different parties allowed Republicans and Democrats to run their own reform candidates on third party lines, such as "Fusion", American Labor, Liberal, Conservative and Independence. In fact, no Republican has ever been elected Mayor of consolidated New York without the support of at least one other significant party, from LaGuardia to the ex-Democrat Michael Bloomberg. See the Statistical Appendix for other examples.

Even when a candidate could not gain another party's support, he often found it expedient to create a separate line or party name for independent voters to support him, such as "Recovery" (Joseph V. McKee in 1933), "Anticommunist" (Jeremiah Mahoney in 1937), "Experience" (Vincent Impellitteri in 1950) or "Brotherhood" (Robert F. Wagner, Jr. in 1961). In 1965, Rep. John V. Lindsay (R-Liberal) won votes on the "Independent Citizens" line, while his opponent Comptroller Abe Beame (D) won additional votes for "Civil Service Fusion".

Although granting or withholding endorsement was an effective tool for a minor party to influence a candidate's policies and actions, it could sometimes lead to counter-pressure from those who felt that candidates were being swayed too far in the wrong direction. This was one of the main reasons for founding the Conservative Party of New York in 1962 by those upset at the liberalism of Republican Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller and (later) Lindsay, against whose 1965 Mayoral campaign the Conservatives ran William F. Buckley, Jr.

More recently, there has been a trend of reformers working not through third parties (such as the now-dormant Liberals) but through Reform Democratic clubs, leading to lively internal contests such as the 1989 Democratic primary where David Dinkins unseated incumbent Mayor Edward Koch who started his own political career in a Reform Democratic Club.[3] On the other side, however, dissatisfied conservatives have created their own new parties outside the Republican Party, such as the New York State Right to Life Party and the Independence Party of New York.


Not all of these patterns will necessarily continue to hold in the future (while Tammany Hall has never revived), but these are a few of the old patterns from which new patterns will emerge. History is often made by breaking those patterns and assumed rules, but these are some of the patterns that held, changed and sometimes returned again.

Statistical Appendix

Principal candidates' City-wide vote since 1897

This is a summary of the detailed results to be found in the main article, New York City mayoral elections, where many original sources are noted. This table is reproduced here to save the reader the inconvenience of constantly referring back to the main article.

Votes in thousands for principal candidates only, generally those winning more than 4.0% (1/25) of the total vote. (Therefore, low votes may not be shown in a particular year for an otherwise significant party, such as Socialist or Conservative. For some of the lesser left-wing candidates before 1945, see The Rise and Fall of the Socialist Vote for Mayor.) Winner in bold-face in a colored box.

To determine the meaning of abbreviations, click the link or check the list below this table. (Different first names, initials and nicknames may be used for the same person purely to fit the available space.)

Abbreviations used in this table: F or Fu. = Municipal Ownership League, Civic All. = Civic Alliance (Hearst 1909), Anticomm. = Anticommunist (Mahoney 1937), Exp = Experience party (Impellitteri's label for his independent campaign in 1950)
year Total
Democratic '000 Fusion, Liberal, Independent, etc. '000 Republican '000 other major candidates '000
1897 532 Robert A. Van Wyck
Seth Low, Citizens Union
Benjamin F. Tracy
Jeff'n D
1901 562 Edward M. Shepard
Seth Low, Fusion
1903 595 George B. McClellan, Jr.
Seth Low, Fusion
1905 606 George B. McClellan, Jr.
Wm Randolph Hearst, Municipal Ownership League
William M. Ivins (Senior)
1909 604 William Jay Gaynor
Wm R. Hearst, Civic All'ce
Otto Bannard, R-Fusion
1913 627 Edward E. McCall
John P. Mitchel, Fusion
Chas E. Russell, Soc
1917 692 John Francis Hylan
John P. Mitchel, Fusion
William M. Bennett
Morris Hillquit, Soc.
[The State of New York granted the vote to women in 1917, doubling the potential total vote.]
1921 1,196 John Francis Hylan
Henry Curran, R-Coalition
Jacob Panken, Soc.
1925 1,161 Jimmy Walker
Frank D. Waterman
Norman Thomas, Soc
1929 1,465 Jimmy Walker
Fiorello H. La Guardia
Norman Thomas, Soc
1932 2,254 John P. O'Brien 1,054 Joseph McKee, Ind write-in
Lewis H. Pounds
Morris Hillquit, Soc.
1933 2,205 John P. O'Brien
Jos.V. McKee, Recovery
F.H. La Guardia, R-Fusion
Chas Solomon, Soc.
1937 2,300 Jeremiah Mahoney, D-Trades Union-Anticommunist
Fiorello H. La Guardia, R-ALP-Fusion-Progressive 1,345
1941 2,294 William O'Dwyer 1,054 Fiorello H. La Guardia, R-ALP-Fusion-United City 1,187
1945 2,037 William O'Dwyer, D-ALP 1,125 Newbold Morris, No Deal
Jonah Goldstein, R-Lib.-Fus.
1949 2,663 William O'Dwyer 1,267 Newbold Morris, R-Lib.-Fusion
Vito Marcantonio ALP
1950 2,697 Ferdinand Pecora, D-Lib.
Vincent Impellitteri, Exp 1,161 Edward Corsi
Paul Ross, ALP
1953 2,224 Robert F. Wagner, Jr. 1,023 Rudolph Halley, Lib.-Ind.
Harold Riegelman
1957 2,224 Robt Wagner, D-Lib-Fus 1,509 Robert Christenberry
1961 2,467 Robert F. Wagner, Jr., D-Liberal-Brotherhood 1,237 Lawrence Gerosa, Ind.- Citizens Party
Louis Lefkowitz, R-Nonpartisan-Civic Action
1965 2,652 Abraham Beame, D-Civil Service Fusion 1,046 John V. Lindsay, R-Liberal-Independent Citizens 1,149 Wm F. Buckley, Jr, Conservative
1969 2,458 Mario Procaccino, D-Nonpartisan-Civil Service Ind
John V. Lindsay, Liberal 1,013 John Marchi, R-Conservative
1973 1,701 Abraham Beame
Albert Blumenthal, Lib.
John Marchi
Mario Biaggi, Cons.
1977 1,370 Edward Koch
Mario Cuomo, Liberal
Roy M. Goodman
Barry Farber, Cons.
1981 1,223 Edward Koch, D-R
Frank Barbaro, Unity
1985 1,107 Edward Koch, D-Ind.
Carol Bellamy, Liberal
Diane McGrath, R-Cons.
1989 1,900 David Dinkins
Rudolph Giuliani, R-L.-Ind Fu.
1993 1,889 David Dinkins
Rudolph Giuliani, R-L
1997 1,117 Ruth Messinger
Rudolph Giuliani, R-L
2001 1,481 Mark Green,
D-Working Families
Michael Bloomberg, R–Independence Party
2005 1,290 Fernando Ferrer
Michael Bloomberg, R/Lib. – Independence Party
2009 1,155 Bill Thompson,
D-Working Families
Michael Bloomberg, Indep'ce/Jobs & Educ. – R
2013 1,102 Bill de Blasio,
D-Working Families
Joe Lhota,


  1. ^ Peter Cooper, Abram S. Hewitt, while the Republicans nominated Theodore Roosevelt, then a young and promising politician." History of Socialism in the United States (1971 Dover reprint), page 252, ISBN 0-486-22767-7
  2. ^ Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, as recorded by William Riordon (1963 edition), Project Gutenberg text, Chapter 4
  3. ^ "Ed Koch" in Centennial Classroom: NYC Mayors the first 100 years

See also

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