Friday, October 03, 2008

Strange Bedfellows

The subject of term limits extension has brought together some unlikely allies-writers at the City Journal, a conservative magazine, and at the Drum Major Institute, a left leaning think tank, both agree that the mayor's power grab stinks. Over turning the will of the voters is a proposition that animates all manner of political persuasions.

Here's John Avalon's take at the CJ, and he direct aim at the hypocrisy over at the NY Times-and the paper's umbrage at the thought of extending Rudy Giuliani's term, but support for Mike Bloomberg under far less onerous circumstances: "The city was facing an unprecedented crisis. Its outgoing mayor had demonstrated unique leadership ability, rooted in decades of professional experience. None of his potential successors in the upcoming mayoral election had similar strengths. And so, some suggested that the popular and effective mayor stay in office—amending the term limits law that the people of New York had voted on twice.

The New York Times, however, voiced thunderous disapproval. “This is a terrible idea. Neither New York City nor the nation has ever postponed the transfer of power because the public was convinced it could not get along without the current incumbent. The very concept goes against the most basic of American convictions, that we live in a nation governed by rule of law.”

Once again demonstrating just how far that paper's credibility has fallen, Avalon goes on to cite the paper's lack of any core principles (let's not forget the supposed support the paper gives to campaign finance reform, a commitment that was deep-sixed for Billionaire Bloomberg without much public regret): "Fast-forward seven years, almost to the day, and the New York Times sings a different tune. “The [term limits] law is particularly unappealing now because it is structured in a way that would deny New Yorkers—at a time when the city’s economy is under great stress—the right to decide for themselves whether an effective and popular mayor should stay in office . . . Mr. Bloomberg, who is expected to announce on Thursday that he will seek a third term if he can, likes the idea a lot. We do, too.” This is situational ethics backed up by politics, not principle—the opposite of what a newspaper editorial board is supposed to do."

What's the right approach, at least in a real democracy, and not in Venezuela where the "popular" Hugo Chavez overrode term limits to much hand wringing from certain quarters? Here's Avalon's take: "A far better way would be for the mayor to appoint a Charter Revision Commission, which would put forward a proposal to voters in a special election next spring. The proposal should be limited to extending the mayor and City Council members to three terms each—perhaps staggering Council members’ terms to minimize overlap. Overturning term limits altogether, as the Times suggested, would lead to an ossified permanent government perpetuated by low-turnout city council elections and further undercut the idea of a citizen’s local legislature."

But he won't, even though early polls suggest that he would be successful-although the city council extension is far less popular. It's far easier to rig the deal early and ram it thorough quickly before any real opposition can galvanize.

Over at the DMI, a similar sentiment is expressed by Chad Marlow: "I could argue that the challenges we are facing today are far less dire than those we faced in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when New York City rejected Mayor Rudy Guiliani's request to serve a few extra months in office until the City stabilized. To suggest that this financial crisis – a federal problem over which the Mayor of New York has little impact – justifies an extension of Mayor Bloomberg’s term for several years (and it would be a de facto extension because incumbents rarely lose elections, billionaires rarely lose elections unless running against other billionaires, and billionaire incumbents... well, you get the picture)."

Marlow goes on to point out that; "Mayor Bloomberg insists that he needs to stay in office for four more years to protect our city during its current economic struggles. For the sake of argument, let's assume this justification is both true and desirable. What we must then question is why, in light of this justification, term limits should be extended for every New York City elected official. No member of the City Council or other Citywide or Boroughwide office has had the audacity to claim they are similarly indispensable. The truth is Mayor Bloomberg is seeking to extend term limits for every elected official as a reward for lifting his own."

So, if the issue is the need to keep a good mayor in a crisis why not, argues Marlow, do the following: "Put a bill before the Council that is limited to addressing the justification you put forth for extending term limits; namely, a bill that only extends term limits for the Mayor of New York and no one else. Let's see how far a bill goes that is linked solely to addressing the alleged need to have Mayor Bloomberg stay in office for four more years, but does not include the additional bonus of extending term limits for everyone else in city government. Come on Mr. Mayor. I'm calling your bluff. Put forth a bill that is narrowly tailored to meet your alleged justification for a mayoral term limits extension or admit this is nothing more than a power grab to secure four more years in what you have rightly called “the greatest job in the world."

To do so, however, would be to break up the best Broadway act since Edger Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. This entire staged production will, we believe, go down as a sad episode in New York City's political history.