New group looks to unite reformers, small parties and independent voters ahead of 2022 elections

Legislative Gazette photo by James Gormley

At the beginning of a new administration in Albany, a group looking to attract independent and moderate voters is asking for four major changes it says will “clean up a state government with a long and ugly record of corruption and misdeeds.”

The group Unite NY is asking Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature to adopt new laws now to create open primaries, change the structure of state ethics commissions, make it easier for minor party candidates to get on the ballot and restrict governors to two terms in office.

“New York prides itself as being a national leader in many ways, but this continuing string of corruption has us leading in one category we’d rather be last,” said Unite NY Founder Martin Babinec, an upstate entrepreneur and 2016 candidate for the 22nd Congressional District. “Andrew Cuomo’s resignation is another black eye on the state of New York but unfortunately the problem runs so much deeper than just one or two bad leaders.”

Unite NY Founder Martin Babinec

Unite NY — which includes the 2018 Libertarian candidate for governor, Larry Sharpe, and Green Party stalwart Howie Hawkins — will be running and supporting candidates in upcoming elections, especially those who believe in expanded ballot access, greater voices for voters, open primaries and implementing new policies to restore ethics to government.

New York is still one of nine states with a closed primary process meaning that voters who are not registered to a party are not allowed to vote in primary elections. This affects 3.5 million New York residents who are not registered with a party.

Critics of the current system say closed primaries give undue power to political bosses and incumbents by catering to the 20 percent of extreme partisan voters participating in the primary. 

Even without new legislation, this reform can be accomplished by any of the established parties making a simple change to their own party’s rules, say Unite NY members, empowering more voters.

“Voting rights include the right to vote for who you want,” says Howie Hawkins, Green Party candidate for governor in 2010, 2014, and 2018. “The draconian ballot access law adopted in 2019 took that right away from third party voters in New York. We now have four party lines that routinely endorse the two major party candidates. It is time to reform ballot access laws in New York State, so they are fair, reasonable, and create multi-party elections.”

New York is one of 14 states that does not impose term limits on its governors and this is evident with former governors such as George Pataki and Mario Cuomo serving three consecutive terms. Andrew Cuomo was also on track to serve 12 years in office before his resignation in August. 

Allowing a governor to serve for so long creates stagnation by greatly slowing down the speed in which new ideas and people can help serve the state. By limiting a governor to two terms it greatly reduces their chances of monopolizing their power and promotes healthy turnaround for governors and their appointed officials.

Unite NY says restricting administrations to two terms would limit the power of the governor while also slowing the revolving door of influence peddling with former staffers becoming lobbyists.

“If Gov. Hochul truly wants to bring a new culture to Albany, then she must take clear action,” Sharpe said. “She must push for term limits to reduce the odds of another executive believing that they are untouchable. In addition, she must push to open primaries and to remove the recently expanded barriers to third parties’ access to the ballot. Former Gov. Cuomo’s fall has shown that the executive needs less power, and the people need more choice.”

Unite NY is hoping to establish a ballot line by running a candidate for governor next year to help fill the void created by the loss of five minor parties that previously held statewide ballot access. These smaller political parties were eliminated as the result of 2020 legislation that tripled the qualification hurdles needed to qualify as a minor party.

Gov. Cuomo and lawmakers raised the petition minimum for ballot access from 15,000 to 45,000. Along with this, they also changed the qualifying party threshold from 50,000 to around 160,000 for parties to remain on the ballot for the next election. 

“Corruption has been a part of New York State history for centuries due to a fundamentally broken system,” said Bruce Roter, president of the Museum of Political Corruption. “It’s a part of our past but doesn’t need to be a part of our future. 

“Corruption has a place in our museum, but not in the halls of our government.”