Saturday, October 18, 2008

NYC and the Heated Term Limits Debate

The debate over term limits in New York City is one that has been fought for nearly two decades. There have been two referendums on the issue - both of which overwhelmingly supported limiting the terms for the Mayor and City Council Members.

Now Mayor Michael Bloomberg has put it before the City Council again, where 35 of the 51 members are due to lose their seats because of term limits after the 2009 city elections.

At a public hearing Thursday - which lasted 10 hours - New York City residents voiced their disapproval. Annette Keehner, a broker's assistant called it "a scam and a charade." Brooklyn writer Michael Bouldin said "this is an agreement between billionaires and they cannot do this without a third referendum. It would be a slap in the face to voters." And a former police officer said the end of the term limits would mean "dictatorship and tyranny."

Bloomberg argues that it is too late for another referendum on the issue, and must be voted by a simple majority on the City Council. Speaking on Bloomberg's behalf, attorney Anthony Crowell argued "the financial crisis threatens many of the gains we've made as a city" and that the billionaire and former trader was best equipped for handling the troubles on Wall Street.

Not persuaded to support the proposed change, New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman wrote a critical editorial Thursday comparing Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (who supports the change) to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"Both the mayor and the speaker bristle at suggestions that theirs is "a backroom deal." They may be right. Who knows what room the deal was made in? But they definitely have, shall we say, an understanding."

Of Bloomberg's supporters, waving signs supporting an end to term limits, Haberman writes "everything about them screamed rent-a-crowd" and refers to them as "minions."

But the Mayor has picked up the support of fellow billionaire Ron Lauder, who used his wealth to bankroll the term-limit referendum "yes" campaigns in the 1990s. And while he does not quite have the majority of the City Council supporting his position, Bloomberg is lobbying the entire Council and may well be able to swing some votes.

What factors will influence the City Council's decision?

35 of the 51 City Council Members are about to lose their seats due to term limits, and that will obviously be a factor.

But the term limits are significantly popular in New York City. By supporting the bill before the chamber, the members would be less likely to win a third race for City Council. Would they really want to spend the time, money, and energy trying to win a third race after such an unpopular decision? Perhaps more importantly, do they want to risk their political futures when running for higher offices?

We will have to wait and see.

No comments: