New Yorkers' grand, central guide to elections, politics & government

Political Dictionary

Below is a list of important words and phrases related to politics and government, especially in New York City. We welcome edit suggestions and submissions: email Cesar:


Be sure to also reference our page for Office Roles & Powers to get a feel for the powers and responsibilities of the Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough Presidents, City Council Members, Speaker of the City Council, and District Attorneys.


  1. POLITICAL CLUB:  These organizations – whose power has waned from the days when they controlled the party machinery in New York politics – cover a wide spectrum of ideologies and geography across the city, ranging from the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club in the Bronx to the Molinari Republican Club in Staten Island.  They still hold some sway as candidates continue to pursue endorsements from political clubs in hopes that they will offer a boon to their fundraising and organizational efforts.


  1. COMMUNITY BOARD:  The official New York City website defines community boards as follows: Community boards are local representative bodies. There are 59 community boards throughout the City, and each one consists of up to 50 unsalaried members, half of whom are nominated by their district’s City Council members.  While the main responsibility of the board office is to receive complaints from community residents, they also maintain other duties, such as processing permits for block parties and street fairs. Many boards choose to provide additional services and manage special projects that cater to specific community needs.


  1. PRIMARY (ELECTION):  Scheduled for September 10th, 2013, the primary election will decide the Democratic and Republican nominees for their respective offices.  If no city-wide (Mayor, Comptroller, or Public Advocate) candidate obtains at least 40 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will proceed to


  1. GENERAL ELECTION: Contest among the final representative of each party with a line on the ballot. Includes the winners of the primary elections. This year, the general election is scheduled for Tuesday, November 5th, 2013, polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. city-wide.  Polling locations can be found here.  Absentee ballots must be postmarked by November 4th.


  1. ENDORSEMENT:  When an individual, club, union, or other organization gives their official, public support or approval of a candidate.  A full list of #NYC2013 endorsements can be found here.


  1. PETITION:  To be eligible to be on the primary and general election ballot, candidates must submit a number of signatures from residents within their constituencies.  Given that the requirements for the petition process can be quite stringent, candidates often submit many times the number of required signatures to avoid being challenged on their validity as well as using it as a sign of their support and organizational strength.  The New York City Charter states that candidates need to exceed certain thresholds to get on the ballot: 3750 for citywide office, 2000 for borough-wide positions, and 450 for city council seats.  Full petition requirements can be found of the New York Board of Elections website.


  1. (CANDIDATE) FORUM: Forums are events hosted by community leaders or organizations around the city that give candidates the opportunity to share their views on a wide range of issues to a variety of constituencies.  They are held for candidates running for virtually every office, usually open to the public, and can occur frequently.  Forums like these are listed on the DecideNYC event calendar.  


  1. PLATFORM: A platform is a set of policy ideas and actions that a candidate, party, or organization publicly supports in order to appeal to voters or make their views known.  An example is the NYS Green Party platform that can be found here.  


  1. AGENDA: A list or program of things to be done or problems to be addressed. A list of issues currently on the City Council’s agenda can be found here.  


  1. POLICY: A course of action or plan that embraces a number of goals or procedures to be enacted.  An an example is Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed mandatory composting program


  1. LEGISLATION: Legislation is a law that has been proposed or passed. Search through a database of city council legislation here.  


  1. LEGISLATURE: A legislature is a government body – usually elected – that is given the power to make laws.  Legislatures primarily affecting New Yorkers include the U.S. Congress, the New York State Legislature, and the New York City Council.


  1. BILL: A bill is a proposed law under consideration; some bills become laws.  You can search through bills being considered by the state assembly here.  


  1. LAW: A law is a bill that has been approved by a legislature (and generally signed by an executive).  Can also be called an “act” or a “statute”.  An example of a law in New York City is the recent law that limits the sizes of soft drinks that can be sold.  


  1. VETO: Executives are generally given the power to veto – or send back a bill to the legislature – at their discretion.


  1. OVERRIDE:  If a bill is vetoed, the legislature has the opportunity to gather an even larger majority of support to ‘override’ the executive’s veto, thus making the bill a law without needing executive approval.


  1. POLLING PLACE: Polling locations are located across the city and will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on primary and general election day.  Find a location near you here.


  1. BALLOT:  Document on which a list of official candidates running for office are listed on their respective party lines.  Ballots are typically submitted on election day at specific polling places or alternatively can be submitted as absentee ballots by mail.   


  1. MAYOR:  The mayor is the chief executive of the city government.  The mayor may introduce legislation to the city council, veto city council bills, make numerous administrative appointments, represent the city within and outside, and is currently granted “mayoral control” of the city’s school system by the state.  The current mayor is Michael R. Bloomberg.  


  1. COMPTROLLER:  The comptroller is the chief financial officer of the city.  They are charged with tracking city contracts, determining when auditing is appropriate, and carrying out audits of city agencies.  They oversee the management of the city’s five major pension funds – that combined are worth approximately 135 billion dollars – and have the power to issue and sell city bonds.  The comptroller manages a diverse staff of over 700 professional employees.  The current Comptroller is John C. Liu.  


  1. PUBLIC ADVOCATE:  The public advocate is the official watchdog within the city government, charged with ensuring “good government” and looking out for all of the city’s residents.  They perform oversight of government agencies and programs and have the power to introduce legislation to the city council.  The public advocate has a platform from which to speak as a check on the mayor and the city council and becomes acting mayor in the mayor’s absence.  The current Public Advocate is Bill de Blasio.  


  1. BOROUGH PRESIDENT:  Borough Presidents serve as the sole executive representative for one of five respective boroughs.  They are charged with keeping tabs on the quality of life in his/her borough and being a voice for the borough throughout the city.  The borough president serves as a liaison for groups within the borough as well as making some appointments to community boards, Panel for Education Policy, and City Planning Commission.  They have some say over land use and zoning within their boroughs and control a portion of the city’s capital budget.


  1. CITY COUNCIL MEMBER:  Council members represent a specific geographic district and are charged with representing the interests of their constituents and the city at large on the council.  Council members may introduce city legislation, vote on proposed city legislation and the city budget, vote in attempts to override a mayoral veto of previously passed council legislation, and nominates people to the Borough President for community board membership.  Locate which district you’re in and who represents you on the council with CUNY’s “Who Represents Me?” function on our website.  


  1. DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  The district attorney is an elected official in each county who represents the government in the prosecution of criminal offenses.  


  1. DEMOCRATIC PARTY: The more left leaning of the two dominant parties – traditionally taking a more liberal stance on social issues like abortion rights, and more recently, gay marriage rights.  On fiscal issues, they traditionally support higher tax rates and expanded social services/safety nets.  New York State has historically been a Democratic stronghold, with New York City providing the base of that support.    Visit their website for more.  


  1. REPUBLICAN PARTY:  The more right leaning of the two dominant parties – traditionally taking a more conservative approach to social issues, but most oppose restrictions on gun ownership.  On fiscal issues, Republicans typically support lower tax rates and reduced spending on certain programs.  Visit their website for more. 


  1. CONSERVATIVE PARTY:  Minor party that is further ‘right’ ideologically from the Republicans.  It is a statewide party in New York and typically chooses to endorse candidates nominated by the Republican Party, unless they are deemed too ‘liberal’.  Visit their website for more. 


  1. INDEPENDENCE PARTY:  Founded  in 1991 – and generally associated with the two presidential runs of Ross Perot in the 1990s – was a party designed to attract independent and centrist voters.  Its policy positions have been ambiguous and can be highly variable depending on the candidate. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has run on the Independence Party line of the ballot in addition to the Republican line in all three of his elections for mayor.  Visit their website for more. 


  1. WORKING FAMILIES PARTY:  Founded in 1998, the Working Families Party (WFP) of New York is based on progressive and populist ideology.  They generally endorse major party candidates, but has occasionally run its own candidates.  Visit their website for more. 


  1. GREEN PARTY:  The Green Party is a left-leaning minor party that typically runs its own candidates in races locally, statewide, and nationally.  They emphasize environmentalism and participatory, grassroots democracy.  Visit their website for more. 


  1. LIBERTARIAN PARTY:  The Libertarian Party traditionally believes that the government should remove itself from stances on social issues, notably including issues like drug decriminalization.  They also support Laissez-faire economic policy and the removal of many government regulations of the economy.  Visit their website for more. 

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