Friday, September 12, 2008

Ollie and the Public Pulse

According to the City Room Blog, Councilman Ollie Koppell isn't seeing any strong public response to his term limits extension bill: “I have gotten much, much less commentary than I anticipated,” said Mr. Koppell, a Democrat representing the Riverdale section of the Bronx. “I thought I would get a flood of e-mails. We have gotten, maybe, a few negative phone calls. People that I’ve seen on the street tell me only that they saw an article with my name in the paper. But they don’t say anything else.”

Well, if we were Ollie we wouldn't necessary get comfortable with this view-perhaps most of Riverdale was on summer hiatus and hadn't yet heard that Koppell was leading the charge to over turn the will of the people. We're pretty certain that, once the folks are all back and paying attention, the veteran legislator will be hearing from his constituents. The blow back hasn't even gotten a good head of steam yet.

What's as interesting, and unsurprising coming from a thirty year office holder, is Koppell's negative take on direct democracy: “Personally, I don’t favor legislation by referendum,” Mr. Koppell said in an interview this week. “If you look at California, they have referendums on all kinds of things. And they are not necessarily in the best interest of the public.”

So what we have here is someone who not only believes in legislative longevity-ad nauseum, so to speak-but also the superior wisdom of the legislator: “I served for 23 years in the state Assembly, and I can tell you that some of the most effective people in the Legislature have been there for some time,” he said. “In fact, I always wanted the issue of extending term limits to come up while in office, because I always wanted to have a role in trying to change the laws.”

One could also observe that some of those long standing legislators-stamped with an indelible incumbency-have also been, well, crooks and dolts. Current headlines underscore this point: "Disgraced ex-lawmaker and union boss Brian McLaughlin is a secret witness in an FBI probe that led to Wednesday's arrest of a Queens pol on influence-peddling charges, the Daily News has learned. The ongoing investigation - which featured an undercover FBI agent trolling the Assembly floor for corrupt pols - has snared its first collar: Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D-Ozone Park)."

So this is all a fascinating political science debate-except for the inconvenient fact that Ollie's arguments are the most tendentious kind-those uttered with unmistakable self interest. Some of this quality is captured in his following observations: “In New York City, we have made it much easier for insurgents to run and to have a shot at beating an incumbent,” he said. “I haven’t seen a great hue and cry for term limits for State Legislature or for members of Congress. So, I don’t see the rationale for a system where council people should have term limits and no one else. It doesn’t make sense.”

Of course, it is next to impossible for term limits to be extended to the state and federal levels, given the onerous-no, nigh impossible-referendum process in New York State. If we could put term limits for all office holders on a statewide referendum, does Oliver Koppell truly believe that it wouldn't pass overwhelmingly?

Meanwhile, Tony Avella, has a different outlook, as the NY Sun reports today: "Council Member Tony Avella, who represents parts of Queens, said yesterday that he has directed the council's legal division to draft the legislation, which would require that any changes to term limits be enacted through a voter referendum." This, as the NY Daily News points out today, puts Speaker Quinn square in the middle. In our view, Koppell has a better measure of the pulse of his colleagues; Avella, however, better mirrors the depth of popular sentiment on this contentious issue. Where the Speaker stands remains, one might say, fluctuatingly contingent.

Thanks to Liz for the link.