Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Limited Sense

We don't usually agree with the Citizens Union about anything, but there's finally an issue that we can come together on: term limits. AS the City Room blog reported yesterday, Council Speaker Quinn has announced that she won't support any council effort to overturn the city's term limits law. As Quinn told the Daily Politics: "After careful consideration and discussions with my colleagues in the Council, I have decided not to pursue a change in New York City’s term limit law. I will neither support legislation nor will I seek or support a new referendum eliminating or altering term limits."

We understand all of the political considerations here, but the observations of Dick Dadey of the Citizens Union do resonate with us: "We fear that with less than two years until the next city election too many current council members are spending more time running for their next office instead of serving their constituents and giving the time needed to address important city issues. This is but one of several possible drawbacks to an eight year term."

City governance is not in perfect balance, and the power of the mayor reigns supreme in most areas. The Council can and should provide the kind of check on mayoral abuse that most legislatures do in a democratic system. The limits on council terms, however, further constrict the legislature's ability to constrain the chief executive-something that we've painfully watched over the past two years. There's little concern left for the legislative prerogatives of the council.

So we agree with Dadey's CU when he says that council terms might be best extended to 12 years, and the Speaker's political decision yesterday shouldn't foreclose debate on the subject: "Many New Yorkers have opinions on whether term limits should be kept or amended in some way. What is needed is a thoughtful and full public discussion on the issue before ruling in or out any change to term limits. While legislation would have been bad, we regret that the speaker’s decision may possibly prevent a fuller discussion of this important issue."

And we certainly disagree with the editorial perspective in today's NY Post, a view that wants to see the term limits lifted-but only for the mayor: "It's nice that Quinn listened to the voters, and abjured yet another pointless trip to the polls. Moreover, the speaker knows her members, and if she feels that two 4-year terms for them is enough - well, who's to argue? (For most of them, two 4-month terms is pushing the public-service envelope.) Still, a strong case could be made for lifting the limits for New York's top municipal post - mayor. The council's importance in municipal governance wanes year by year, while power accretes to the mayoralty. "

Which is precisely why an institutional check is badly needed. With all of the fawning over Mayor Mike, what folks lose sight of is his regal pretensions and basic lack of real democratic impulses. An unlimited term for someone with unlimited funds-or any chief executive of New York-is not a real good idea.