Thursday, October 16, 2008

Daily News Term Limits Kettle

The old saying about the pot calling the kettle black applies in spades to the editorialists at the NY Daily News. In their editorial this morning, the paper lashes out at council hypocrites for opposing the mayor's initiative while, at the same time, refusing to rule out taking advantage of the term extension for themselves: "We came by this insight into the Council's shameful posturing by posing a simple question to as many of the 19 announced "no" votes as had the fortitude to return phone calls. Seeing as how they have vowed to uphold term limits as a matter of principle, have they ruled out going for third terms themselves if the Council passes the bill over their opposition? Only three barred the action. To their credit, Queens Democrats Tony Avella, Eric Gioia and John Liu said they won't seek reelection, no matter how the Council votes."

Putting aside for the moment whether this kind of maneuvering is hypocritical, after all there's a lot of self interest to go around in this debate, isn't it quite shameless for the News to be blowing the whistle? The thought of Mike Bloomberg getting a third term got the News integrity knickers all in a knot; with the paper totally reversing its previous opposition to term limits extension.

Not to mention that the mayor himself went from "disgusting" to heroic-at least in his own mind-on the issue when he reversed himself. Which brings us to the other council members that the News leaves out of the discussion-those that are voting on their own extension, using flowery phrases like "giving the people more choice," while depriving them of their original chice to enact the limits in the first place.

What would be a fascinating thought experiment here-an idea that we got from an item in this morning's Crain's Insider-is, what would the council do if they were only voting on the mayor's extension and not their own? As Crain's points out (subscription), the vote on their own limits removal may be illegal: "The City Council’s bid to vote itself another term could be on shaky legal ground. The state’s Municipal Home Rule Law requires a referendum to change the composition of a legislative body, says attorney Larry Laufer of Genova Burns & Vernoia. The clause didn’t come up in the council’s 2003 tweak of term limits but did spur the 1996 referendum for a third term. Laufer says the clause could lead the courts to reject an extension for the council but uphold one for the mayor, comptroller, public advocate and borough presidents."

Let's get that ruling quickly; we just can't see the council getting a minion for the mayor's extension if it didn't include one for themselves. But what this means is that this issue is not going away with the council's expected approval-and now Senator Clinton has weighed in with her own skepticism: "It is disturbing that voters voted twice, so I think that the City Council and the mayor have to first go through the hearings they're holding and try to figure out what they will do. They have the legal authority to make the change that they're considering, but I really am going to watch from the sidelines now because this is a very intense, local debate and the people of New York City should be heard. They should have every opportunity to express themselves and that's what I hope happens."

And maybe the UFT as well? As the Daily News reports: "The United Federation of Teachers yesterday approved a resolution to put term limits changes up to voters. Here, from Gotham Schools, is part of the text of the union's position: "Resolved, that at this moment of economic crisis, UFT affirms its fundamental belief in the importance of respecting the democratic will of the people, and calls for the submission of any change in the term limits law to popular referendum."

Can you just see the storm clouds brewing here? Today's City Council hearing is just the beginning-this one's far from over.