Two New York City lawmakers introduced a bill on Wednesday that would disproportionately prevent Black people from running for public office. The measure would help to promote a non-Black policy agenda.
The proposed legislation would ban ex-felons from seeking office. “Public office is a privilege,” Councilman Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat, told WCBS radio. “It is not a right. It is not an entitlement.” Torres added that he believes in redemption for private citizens.
Torres and Councilman Francisco Moya, the Queens Democrat who cosponsored the bill, must have had former Councilman Hiram Monserrate in mind when they proposed the legislation. Moya beat Monserrat in a 2017 primary contest, in which Monserrate was trying to make a political comeback. He had been sentenced to prison on felony corruption charges while serving in the City Council.
However, having a prior criminal record is not a predictor of who will commit a crime in office. When it comes to corruption in government, New York politicians stand on top of the pile. There’s a long list of disgraced politicians in the city and state who had a clean criminal record before they were ousted from office for corruption. Torres is also taking an inconsistent stance with his bill. He was among the cosponsors of the 2015 Fair Chance Act that prohibited discrimination based on an individual’s arrest record or criminal conviction.
This comes against the backdrop of states keeping felons who served their time from participating in elections. In Florida, a successful campaign gathered enough signatures in January to place a constitutional amendment on the November 2018 ballot that would restore voting rights to 1.5 million felons. If it passes, the amendment would enfranchise scores of African Americans.
There are plenty of questions about the constitutionality of the proposed measure in New York. It’s unclear right now whether it can successfully make its way through the legislative process.