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The Rise of Immigrant-Origin City Legislators in New York City

Citizenship
Political Leadership
Political Participation
Political Parties
Voting
Coalition
Immigration
John Mollenkopf
University of Leicester
John Mollenkopf
University of Leicester

Abstract

This paper will analyze the rise and evolution of the election of immigrant-origin candidates to the New York City Council between 2001 and 2013 as a function both of the growth of the immigrant-origin citizen population within the potential and active electorate and the patterns of alignment versus divergence in the voting patterns of the whole range of racial-ethnic-religious groups active in New York City politics. As more than half the voting age citizens in New York City (as of the 2012 national election) are foreign born (32 percent) or had at least one foreign born parent (20 percent), the city has been at the forefront of the the emergence of nativity alongside race, ethnicity, gender, class, partisan orientation, and ideology as major background factors in electoral mobilization and vote choice. Yet immigrant-origin candidates do not usually win office solely by mobilizing immigrant-origin voters. Given the strongly partisan nature of its political system, as well as the heterogeneity of the electorate even in predominantly immigrant-origin areas, forming majority coalitions within the Democratic party primary electorate is most often (but not always) a key to success. The larger context of competition for the city-wide office of mayor also influences these outcomes. Nevertheless, city council membership of citizens of immigrant origin has risen from two (out of 51) on the eve of the 2001 city council elections to 16 after the 2013 elections. This trajectory reveals the interplay of demographic change, electoral mobilization, and local political culture and structure.