Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Limited Idea

In today's NY Sun, the paper reports on the rumored effort by a number of former council members to return to their old seats on that legislative body. This possibility was met with scorn from a number of folks who thinks that it would violate the spirit of the term limits law; "One of the reasons people twice voted for term limits was an expression of wanting new blood, new thoughts, new ideas," a founder of the group, People to Stop a Self Serving Council, Kenneth Moltner, said. "One would have hoped that the City Council would have heard the will of the voters and wouldn't try to go against that will."

With all due respect to Mr. Molter and his group, neither of which we've ever heard of, this is all a load of crap. New ideas indeed! What Molter fails to understand is that the basic structure of New York City government singularly favors the chief executive. Term limiting the council has the effect of eroding the necessary checks and balances on mayoral excess. A term limited member, with an eye on the next possible office, is less likely to want to challenge a chief executive who holds almost all of the budgetary purse strings.

This is especially true if a mayor is fairly popular-often the precise time when a check on mayoral power is most needed. Much of this is already visible under the current council leadership and, even if we admit the possibility that the Speaker's extraordinarily close relationship with Mayor Bloomberg is an anomaly, it doesn't take away from the fact that a two-term council-with an inevitable one term leadership-is no match for a mayor. The inevitable result is what we have seen-the erosion of the legislative prerogative and the aggrandizement of executive power.

The optimal solution here, from a simple good government perspective, is to minimally increase the council term limit to twelve years. This increase would give council members a greater stake in the integrity of their own institution, and give New Yorkers a needed counterweight to chief executives who have never been known for papal infallibility.