Monday, September 10, 2007

A Day of Respect, Except for the Ballot

Published: September 11, 2007


On this, the sixth anniversary of the city’s longest day, most of New York will carry on as usual. Stores will be open. So will government offices. Broadway will put on its shows. The Mets, weather permitting, will play ball. Traders at the New York Stock Exchange will buy and sell.


In short, New Yorkers will go about their normal activities — with one exception. They won’t vote. That most basic element of American democracy, the ballot, is the one normal thing forbidden them on the Sept. 11 anniversary.

And our political leaders will reassure us that the terrorists haven’t won.

Customarily, Primary Day in New York State is the second Tuesday in September. That would be today. But in May, barely noticed by most New Yorkers, the Legislature and the governor delayed the primaries until next Tuesday, Sept. 18.

So we can shop, and go to a ballgame, and make money. But allow our democracy to function normally? Nope. That is somehow incompatible with Sept. 11.

Lawmakers reached this conclusion in virtual lock step, some no doubt fearing the potential wrath of 9/11 families. The State Senate voted for the delay unanimously. In the Assembly, the vote was 136 to 9, the tiny minority consisting of 6 Democrats and 3 Republicans.

Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader, called it “critically important that we reserve Sept. 11 as a day when the world looks back and remembers the many heroes who lost their lives.”

But couldn’t we remember and vote at the same time? Some might even say that democracy’s normal processes would honor those heroes while telling the terrorists in a powerful way where they can go.

“Yes, you can make the case for that,” said John E. McArdle, a spokesman for Mr. Bruno. “But I think there was a consensus all the way around that it was preferable to go this route.”

Much the same was said by Dan Weiler, a spokesman for Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker. He was asked for Mr. Silver’s reasons for seeking the postponement. As relayed by Mr. Weiler, the speaker’s response was, “We felt it was the appropriate thing to do.”

Well, that explains it.

Granted, this will not be much of a Primary Day, especially in New York City, which has nothing more exciting than a judicial race or two. Granted, some people still have bad memories of the aborted Primary Day that was Sept. 11, 2001.

Even so, did Albany bow to a new form of political correctness at the expense of respect for democratic tradition? Linda B. Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat who was one of the nine dissenters in the Assembly, seems to think so. She called the postponement “misguided.”

“The best way to recognize the significance of this attack on America and on its values,” Ms. Rosenthal said, “is not by postponing the opportunity to participate in the most fundamental democratic process we have.”

John A. Ravitz, executive director of the city’s Board of Elections, said that he and other election officials around the state had made a similar point to the Legislature. “We said, ‘What better way to prove that we had recovered and we’re not intimidated by what happened on 9/11 than to hold an election?’ ” Mr. Ravitz said. “But we were told that this” — the change in dates — “was a done deal.”

By now, it has become axiomatic among those in the political class that they alone among New Yorkers must be untrue to themselves on Sept. 11.

“I’ve given up,” said Jerry Skurnik, a political consultant. “We should vote on Sept. 11, but the problem is that people are going to attack candidates for campaigning.” Fernando Ferrer’s experience in the 2005 mayoral race is proof of that. You’d have thought that he had spit on the Constitution the way he was fiercely attacked for accepting the Rev. Al Sharpton’s endorsement on Sept. 11, two days before the Democratic primary.

What New York requires now is “a healthy public discussion about the need to move on and get back to the business of democracy,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of the government watchdog group Citizens Union. “There are many ways in which to show respect and honor that day,” he said, “but not at the continued expense of delaying the exercise of our democracy.”

It may be worth noting that Sept. 11 will fall next on a Tuesday in 2012, a year when major offices will be at stake. Perhaps by then New York’s political leaders will get their democratic groove back.

If it would help, we could all dye our index fingers purple that day.

E-mail: haberman@nytimes.com


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