Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Terms of Endearment

It comes as no surprise for us that Brooklyn BP Marty Markowitz endorsed an extension of term limits yesterday. In fact, Marty's endorsement underscores perfectly just why the extension, as currently contemplated, is such a bad idea. Let's hear it in Markowitz's own words from today's NY Sun: ""If Brooklynites would have me again, I would love to serve as their borough president," Mr. Markowitz said."

Of course he would; as would all (or a great proportion) of the city council members who would be asked to vote on the altering under the currently envisioned scenario. Which is why it is such an unworthy idea-especially in the context of the fact that two recent referendums have established where the public stands on the issue.

The self serving nature of the effort is highlighted in the way in which political rationales are spun. Listen to MM again: "According to Mr. Markowitz, keeping experienced politicians in office prevents a "faceless, nameless bureaucracy" from making key decisions by outmaneuvering politicians who are learning the ropes of government. He added that politicians' second terms are often less effective under the current two-term system, as they must devote much of their time to planning their next campaign rather than governing."

Now that statement is worthy of deconstruction. It goes without saying that elected officials are an important counter balance to bureaucratic abuse-that goes to the essence of democratic governance. The idea that planning a re-election campaign makes a politician, "less effective," is, however sheer nonsense. Campaigns themselves are part of a democratic process that should, if conducted properly, increase public awareness at the same time that they enhance the effectiveness of political leadership. There's a synergy here that Marty is underplaying in his effort to sell his self perpetuation.

Which doesn't mean that the idea of term limits is unworthy of a serious challenge-it isn't. We should have a healthy debate, and that debate should be made part of a referendum process. We've already made it clear that a third term for council members makes a great deal of sense in the context of NYC's mayoral predominance. But the public needs to be educated as to why that is so; not so easy when seen against a backdrop of the recent slush fund scandals.

And Charles Barron gets it right when it comes to NYC and term limits in general: "A lot of people give that old line about term limits, 'It's called Election Day,' but it's almost impossible to get incumbents out," he said in an interview. "There are too many people in office who have really rendered themselves ineffective and need to go. We need new blood and new leadership."

Finding the right balance is important in all of this; and it's almost impossible to do so in the cauldron of political self-interest. Which is precisely why we need to bring this entire issue before the voters. If the mayor wants to make the case publicly that two terms for the city's chief executive is not enough, let him do so in an above board fashion. But to promote the idea in a self serving stealth campaign is unworthy of someone who has the resources-if not the integrity-to democratically sell the idea in a public forum.