Thursday, August 28, 2008

Survey Says...

In what will unlikely come as a shock to most people, the NY Times survey of city council members finds-that they are in favor of altering term limits so that they can remain in office for another four years: "A majority of New York City Council members support — or are open to — overturning the term limit laws that will force most of them and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg from office in 16 months, according to a telephone survey conducted by The New York Times.
With Mr. Bloomberg considering a bid to change the term limits to 12 years from the current 8, the results of the survey suggest that the mayor would find ample support for such a proposal in the Council..."

What the Times goes on to point out may be more problematic, however, since the paper proclaims that the city council, "...has the authority to rewrite the law with or without voter ratification." Therein lies the rub on all of this-any council effort to self perpetuate would undoubtedly be subjected to a legal challenge, one whose outcome belies the Times' supposition here (And why does the Tines speak so peremptorily when the legal experts are far from unanimous here?).

Still, the story is of the dog bites man variety, with council members surveyed coming up with a whole host of reasons (some of which we agree with) as to why they shouldn't be cast aside at the end of their current term: "Besides eliminating the difficulties of looking for a new job, members of the Council said that extending term limits would give voters a chance to re-elect battle-tested leaders, allow members to complete unfinished work and bring stability to city government as New York enters a financial downturn."

The one thing we really agree on here, though, is that it's that mayor is driving all of this-no one on the council would have the nerve to publicly push this without the sense that Big Brother is behind it: "But members said that the decision to alter term limits — and allow them to seek a third term — would largely rest with the mayor. If he signals his support, many said in interviews, the Council will quickly change the law."

Some council folks do express the right amount of concern about the potential for chaos that the effort to over turn the will of the people could generate: "Such a change could carry a steep political price tag. Mr. Bloomberg and Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, who is likely to run for mayor next year and who has the power to block the legislation from reaching a floor vote, have long supported the current term limits, and could face withering criticism for shifting course and undermining the will of voters. “The day we change the term limits is the day we take a step toward dictatorship,” said Tony Avella, a Democrat from Queens who opposes changing the law and is running for mayor. “We seem to have someone in the mayor’s office and speaker’s office who think they can change the law to stay in office.”

Clearly, this is an issue that will continue to be debated by the the political class once everyone comes back from Denver: "The prospect of overturning term limits has captivated the city’s political class. It has even dominated discussion among New York officials — including a dozen or so council members — who are attending the Democratic National Convention this week." Much will hinge on the kind of response that we see from the good government groups, labor, and the ordinary folks.

John Liu's perspective, however, is a good one: "“The issue at hand is not term limits, it’s who decides,” said John C. Liu, a Democrat from Queens who is considering running for comptroller. “Is it 52 people — 51 council members and the mayor — or is it 8 million people? Voting to legislate this could be a kiss of death for decades to come,” Mr. Liu added, “because it becomes an issue that every future campaign opponent can use: unilaterally overturning what the people have very clearly stated is their intent.”

As we have said before, the danger lies with the possibility that, after the council votes, the courts nullify the results, and leave those who have voted to self perpetuate in a dicey position of having to face the voters that they have dissed. Stay tuned on this-more drama is certainly ahead.

Update from Azi: "I got inside the CNN Grill last night (no easy task!), where I ran into Obama delegate and uber-operative Corey Johnson of Manhattan, who said that over at the Sheraton, where the New York delegation is staying, there's barely any talk about presidential politics.
“Term limits. Term Limits. Term Limits. That’s all anybody is talking about,” he said. Later he added, “All politics is local, I guess.”