THE BLOG
08/15/2013 12:57 pm ET Updated Oct 15, 2013

New York's Competitive Advantage

In the perennial New York-Boston competition, this has been a tough summer for the Big Apple. The Sox continue to lead the Yanks and New Yorkers have leading political candidates this cycle named Spitzer and Weiner.

But in the quest to maintain a vibrant and aggressive political climate, Boston has failed where New York has succeeded.

There are important differences: New York uses party primaries to choose nominees, there are active minor parties, and the size of the city helps to ensure a greater degree of political diversity. Boston, a smaller city by far, eschews primaries in favor of a preliminary election with the top two vote getters moving on to a general election.

Both cities have had 16 mayoral elections since 1950, yielding fascinating insights.

New Yorkers tossed four incumbents out of office. Vincent Impelliteri in 1953, Abe Beame in 1977, and Ed Koch in 1989 all lost in primaries. David Dinkins in 1993 lost a general election.

In Boston, the mayor stays the mayor for as long as it suits the incumbent.

New York has elected one independent (Impelliteri), four Democrats (Robert Wagner, Beame, Koch, Dinkins) and three Republicans (John Lindsay, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg though both Lindsay and Bloomberg would move away from the GOP during their tenure).

No Republican has held the top office in Boston since Malcolm Nichols left office in 1930.

Since 1950 the winning candidate in New York took 54 percent on average.

The average victory in Boston? Sixty-one percent.

The height of noncompetitive elections in New York was the mid 1980s during the tenure of Koch, who was safely reelected twice only to be dumped by Democrats in 1989. Since then, elections have become more competitive, with the winning candidate taking just over 50 percent on four occasions.

As New York has remained competitive at the top, Boston has been on a slow decline to rather spiritless elections.

In the eight elections between 1951 and 1979, a candidate for mayor of Boston topped 60 percent of the vote only once, Kevin White in 1971. In the next eight elections, a candidate for Mayor topped 60 percent seven times, three times taking in more than 70 percent.

Those general election victories tell only part of the story. Before Ray Flynn's first reelection in 1983, the winning candidate of the preliminary election typically ran behind the combined totals of the other candidates. Only John Hynes in 1951, John Collins in 1963, and Kevin White in 1975 beat their combined opposition, but only by 7 percent, 8 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

Since 1987, the winner of the general election has always won the preliminary by a substantial margin except once, when Acting Mayor Tom Menino took 27 percent of the vote against the combined total of 46 percent for his opponents in 1993. Menino faced no opposition at all in his first reelection in 1997 and has been comfortably returned to office, though with declining margins, since.

The upcoming mayoral race in Boston, with 12 candidates each putting together their own electoral organization, presents a unique opportunity for Boston to create and sustain a more competitive political culture. It's an opportunity to become more like New York.

A vibrant political climate infuses the system with new ideas and energy and absorbs new citizens into politics. It also provides an important democratic system of opposition, keeping a powerful mayor in check.

Though it may not appreciate the suggestion, Boston needs a dose of New York's competitive edge.