In recent days, New York City’s Republican, independent and unaffiliated voters have received an offer they can’t refuse: become Democrats. A new political entity named Be Counted NYC has launched a citywide effort it claims is meant to give political minorities a say in the upcoming mayoral election — and perhaps elect more moderate Democrats who can help New York “get back on track.”
As a lifelong, active and proud city Republican, I urge my fellow GOPers to tear up those pre-filled voter-registration forms they’ve received in the mail. Tear them up and throw them out.
Just think about how different life in the city would be if the GOP had given up on New York in the early 1990s. If instead of doubling down on a then-defeated Rudy Giuliani, Republicans had settled for electing the Democrat that would do the least harm.
What would the annual homicide rate be today? What would Times Square look like? How often would we have to argue with squeegee men harassing us on the roads?
Be Counted NYC may mean well. It may truly believe that there’s no hope for a Republican mayor in New York City — and that voting in Democratic primaries is the only option left to save us from radical progressive leadership. Its members forget, however, that in the 1980s and early ’90s, the prospects for a Republican mayoral candidate were bleak. The last Republican mayor at that point was (liberal) John Lindsay, elected in 1965.
Rather than wave the white flag, Republicans went to work establishing broad coalitions, advancing bold ideas for reform and communicating a promising vision for the city. And despite losing in 1989, Republicans stuck with it and, with the help of my home borough of Staten Island, won the mayoralty in 1993. And then four more consecutive mayoral contests.
In a city where registered Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans, voters have consistently turned to GOP candidates to lead New York out of a crisis. In each Republican mayoral victory, New Yorkers put partisanship aside to elect a capable crisis manager at a critical time.
New York is once again spiraling toward disaster as a global pandemic exacerbates the damage done by Mayor de Blasio’s failed leadership. Violent crime is surging, street homelessness has spun out of control, residents have been fleeing, and the city’s fiscal outlook is grim. The next mayoral administration will inherit a city on the brink.
This moment screams for the return of steady-handed Republican leadership. Though the chances of a citywide GOP victory seem slim this year, it is absolutely essential that the party offer an alternative vision for city governance. Moreover, that vision must address conditions at the community level, in all 51 City Council districts.
Successful Republican campaigns were able to cut through the ideological noise to get right to the everyday issues that mattered to New Yorkers. They focused on job creation, excellence in public schools, quality-of-life policing, fiscal responsibility and government inefficiency and waste.
With the city once more at a crossroads, that approach can again upend Democratic dominance. Most important, it will inspire a new wave of Republican leaders across the city.
I remember when, at 10, I attended my first political event: a rally on Staten Island headlined by Giuliani as he sought his final term. It was the movement at the time, driven by core Republican principles, that helped inspire my career in public service and active 12-year membership in the party’s county committee.
And contrary to Be Counted’s implied claim that the GOP in NYC is dead, the most recent voter-registration effort in my borough resulted in a record-setting 100,000-plus registered Republican voters.
New York Republicans must reject the defeatist “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach. Settling for the least harmful or least radical Democratic candidate may be enough to win an election, but it won’t turn the city around. Instead, with one-party rule firmly secured, New York will just look more like the countless cities Democratic leadership has failed.
Now more than ever, Republicans should stay strong — and stay Republican.
David Carr (R) is a candidate for the 50th Council District on Staten Island, chief of staff to Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo and a former vice chairman of the Staten Island GOP.