Monday, October 06, 2008

Is Term Limits Laudertory?

The term limits extension controversy appears to get murkier and murkier-with the NY Times and the city's two tabloids interpreting the Bloomberg/Lauder detente in vary different ways. The Times sees the city council's effort to permanently change the law through legislation as a deal killer for the cosmetics billionaire: "Ronald S. Lauder, the billionaire cosmetics heir and term limits champion, said Sunday night that he would vigorously oppose a plan, outlined by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and City Council members, to permanently change the city’s term limits law to allow 12 years in office rather than 8."

On the other hand, the NY Post writes an entirely opposite "exclusive" version of the Lauder position: "Mayor Bloomberg has struck a deal to appease the man posing the biggest threat to his plan to run for a third term: billionaire term-limits advocate Ronald Lauder. Lauder promised Bloomberg he would support legislation in the City Council to give all officials the option to run for a third term in exchange for a guaranteed seat on a Charter-revision commission. "

And the NY Daily News apparently sees it the same way: "Lauder has agreed to stay out of the expected legal battle over term limits in exchange for a guaranteed spot on an influential city board that would put the matter to the voters in 2010, officials said." Boy, this is getting real confusing.

But back to the supposed paper of record. From the Times story, it's far from clear that Lauder's place on a charter commission will placate him; and from our standpoint, if a commission is possible, why not convene it now for a special election this March-where the one time exception could be placed side-by-side with the longer option, and perhaps, the city council's extension could be extricated from the mayoral one.

Here's the confusing passage in the Times: "If there is a permanent change, I will fight it,” Mr. Lauder said in a telephone interview on Sunday night. “As far as I am concerned, it’s a one-time only exception. That is it.” Mr. Lauder said he expressed concern to Mr. Bloomberg on Friday in a telephone conversation. Mr. Bloomberg suggested that Mr. Lauder sit on a charter revision commission, which would study the issue in 2010 and probably put it up for a referendum.
But Mr. Lauder said that if he joined a charter commission, he would insist that the law keep term limits at 8 years, not 12If there is a permanent change, I will fight it,” Mr. Lauder said in a telephone interview on Sunday night. “As far as I am concerned, it’s a one-time only exception. That is it.”

Everyone get this? Now the Post, also quoting Lauder, reaches what appears to be an opposite conclusion (as does the News): "I want Mayor Bloomberg to have a third term," the cosmetics heir said last night outside his East Side apartment building. But he stressed he's supporting Bloomberg for only one more term. "I believe we can make a once-only exception. If they try to make it a permanent three terms, the voters, by referendum, would have to vote it back to two terms - and I would put my money behind making sure that happens."

All of which seems to us as a confusion between the oligarchs-with Lauder apparently willing to withhold his political distaste for the political class as long as he can continue to be ruled by someone from his own class. But what is really amusing is Bloomberg's bizarre interpretation that a city council action is more democratic than a referendum. Here's his quote in the News on a proposed special election in the spring: "Another rival bill would put term limits to voters in a special election this spring - a proposal Bloomberg said might not be legal. "Not everybody participates, and they would not stand up [to legal challenges]," he said while traveling in Berlin. A Council vote would be more fair, he said. "People who don't want the change don't want to give the public choice. ... I would argue that that is a lot less democratic," Bloomberg said."

What's clear from the mayor's comments, that he appears to have no real feel for what is "democratic," viewing a vote of 51 council members as more so than a vote of all of the city's electorate. He also gets confused-or perhaps tendentious is a better word-when he talks about "expanding voter choice." In the Times he says the following: "...all we’re talking about is expanding the choices that the public has in the general election. Nothing that is proposed to be done by the City Council or would be done in a referendum would take away choice from the public.”

Oh, please! This is all about the methodology of voter choice-and there's no one, excepting perhaps the Self Serving One, who would argue that a deal between the mayor and the council to vote on their own continuation in office, is not something that would "take away choice" from the voters who've already made their feelings clear in two city wide referendums.

But the Bloomberg/Lauder rapprochement, if it is such, dramatically highlights the way in which the monied elites are toying with the folks. Here's Bloomberg working out an agreement with his fellow billionaire so that the Royal Revlon won't muck up his coronation: "Under terms of the deal, worked out over the phone last Friday but made public yesterday, the charter commission - which would be appointed by the mayor - would study reverting to a two-term limit and put it on the ballot in 2010, representatives of both men said. Bloomberg would already be serving his third term. "The mayor said as soon as this November election is held this year, he would appoint a Charter-revision commission, Lauder would be a member of it, and they would, in the year 2010, deal with the issue of ending the three terms and reverting to two terms," said Howard Rubenstein, Lauder's spokesman."

Or, in the words of Louis IV, "Après moi, le déluge." This is looking more and more like the Marx Brothers ruling Fredonia in Duck Soup ("Land of the Spree, and the Home of the Knave"); and the more this gets out to the public, we believe, the more disquieting the whole episode will become. From our perspective, we can't wait to see-Bloomberg, The Movie.