We stopped by at a city hall press conference yesterday, and listened to a variety of elected officials and good government groups rail against the legislative effort to over turn term limits. One of the best lines was from Council member Charles Barron who questioned why we should be extending the mayor's term to deal with a fiscal crisis caused by, in his view, the greed of the mayor's own friends.
In this vein, a number of council members are looking to generate an alternative piece of legislation on this matter. As the NY Times reported yesterday: "In a signal of the coming political fight over Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to seek another four years in office, two City Council members said on Saturday that they would introduce legislation that would allow voters rather than the City Council to decide whether to extend term limits."
This was general theme of Sunday's press conference, with de Blasio pointing out that the mayor's been mulling his own extension for months, but only makes it public after the time for placing the issue on November's ballot had passed. As NY1 reports: "Go back and look at when this administration started floating out its trial balloons on extending term limits. Go back and look how many months ago that was,"said de Blasio. "Then ask yourself the question; if they wanted to be fair and responsible and involve the people, why didn't they move to have a referendum this fall?"
The Times details the legislative opposition: "The proposal by Mr. de Blasio and Ms. James would establish a commission to draft a change to the City Charter to allow for a third four-year term. As part of the process, the commission would hold hearings in each of the five boroughs before placing the proposed changes on the ballot in the spring. Mr. de Blasio and Ms. James said that would give voters ample time to review the changes before deciding for themselves. A more expansive bill that would require all changes to term limits to be done through referendum is also expected to be introduced on Tuesday, said Councilman David I. Weprin, the bill’s sponsor."
In a companion piece, the paper plumbs sentiment in certain city neighborhoods on the issue, and finds a very mixed bag. Some folks do support the mayor, some grudgingly so, but the process does create concern: "At the front of the room, eyes were rolling at the news that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wanted to change city law to seek a third term. “Can you change the rules of a democracy just like that? The ultimate power rests with the people,” said Donnie Whitehead, a community organizer. “It’s arrogant.” “Changing the rules!” said Helen Jones, a New York Racing Association retiree who was festooned in images of Barack Obama, from her earrings to her T-shirt. “Don’t get me started, because I don’t want to get angry.”
It appears to us, that here lies the mayor's-and the city council's-vulnerability on the extension; it smacks of self serving behavior, and it could interplay with the mayor's elite status. As one barbershop owner told the Times: “I don’t see him do nothing for the working class. The rich is already rich, and they’re going to be rich. I don’t have nothing against him as an individual. But he’s not thinking about the little people. And the little people could shut down this city....We don’t need business redevelopment. People need housing, they need jobs. Tell him to build some affordable housing. I hear about everyone’s problems here at the barbershop: This is like the black man’s country club.”
So, in our view, it's no wonder that the council leadership is moving the extension quickly to a vote-the more time the folks have to ponder this and organize, the more vulnerable it could become. This is very Machiavellian in its execution; and we admire the Venetian scholar.