Friday, September 10, 2010

Charting a New Course

As the NY Daily News editorializes this morning, the charter revision effort is just about in complete collapse-with confusion reigning among the participants in this fiasco: "The folks who denied New Yorkers a vote on a true term-limits proposition now acknowledge that, in the process, they made a hash of the November ballot. In a letter on today's Voice of the People page, the Charter Revision Commission says the Board of Elections provided bum information about the capacities of the city's new voting machines. The board denies the accusation."

What's the problem? Let's go to the letter in question from the commission's executive director: "Your Sept. 7 editorial, "Fix charter folly" unfairly and wrongly suggests that Chair Matt Goldstein falsely advised the Charter Revision Commission on the physical constraints of the ballot for propositions to be voted upon Nov. 2. Nothing could be further from the truth. I spoke to Board of Elections counsel Steven Richman twice in August to explore a two-page ballot to allow greater space and more visible placement than the sample one-page sheet available. I was informed it would be impossible to use two sheets. Richman invoked both legal reasons and the practical problems of new machines being used for the first time. Our report was filed at the end of August."

What the heck is this all about? Here's the News' take: "Whoever is to blame, the result is unacceptable. The commission fashioned a ballot with only two questions. First, its flawed term-limits proposal. Second, a hodge-podge of seven unrelated items stuffed into one all-or-nothing vote."

Head hurt yet? Let's cut to the chase-this is about the dereliction of responsibility, and the mayor's curious nonfeasance in the work of the commission he set up to right the term limits wrong. In the first place, the term limits question that grandfathers council members who were just elected last year is an outrage-and violates any stated effort to right the initial wrong that the council committed when it overturned the referendum to satisfy it's-and the mayor's-political self interest.

But the second proposal-a stealth expansion of executive power without merit-is so convoluted that it needs to be fully redrafted: "The topics range from conflict-of-interest law to the authority of an administrative tribunal. Each should be considered on its own merits rather than lumped into a mass that would force voters who strongly oppose one measure to vote them all down, and vice versa for voters who strongly back a single measure."

So all that wasted time and effort-a result of a disinterested mayor taking a, “Après moi, le déluge” attitude to whatever the commission came up with (except for the little tidbits that would sneak in an enhanced power for the NYC DCA). So, as  the News points out, it's back to the drawing board for the not ready for prime time commission: "The next steps are clear: Reconvene to fix the error and, while the panel is at it, pass an honest term-limits question. If there is not sufficient time under the law, the commission will have to scrap its work and let a new panel take over next year. Elections are not to be messed with, nor is the will of the people to be arrogantly ignored, as happened with term limits."

But Morticia can't help giving the mayor absolution in all of this: "Mayor Bloomberg promised voters an opportunity to overturn the drive that gave elected officials a three-term maximum in office rather than two terms. Ignoring the mayor's wishes, the commission approved a proposition that would restore the two-term max while allowing incumbents to remain in office for three terms. New Yorkers hate the idea. More than 70% of those surveyed in a New York Times poll favored forcing officials out after two terms, and 61% said the limit to should apply across the board, including to incumbents."

So the newly elected mayor, the guy whose ambition led to the travesty of the term limits overthrow, suddenly became politically impotent. Give us a break-and lets bell the cat in this fiasco. This is Bloomberg's commission; and any mistakes didn't come about because of some hacks ignoring the mayor's wishes-they are the result of mayoral indifference.

But whatever the causation, the News is correct in the remedy needed-and we'll give the paper the last word: "A majority of the panel thought they knew better, but they failed even to produce a ballot that meets basic tests of democracy."