2008-09-04 / This Week's Attitude

There's Gotta Be A Limit To Ignoring City Voters

This Week's Attitude By Neil S. Friedman

This Week's Attitude By Neil S. Friedman

After months of denial, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was once again asked on Tuesday about running for a third term and replied, "Which letter in the word 'no' do you not understand?"

Even so, he indicated he wouldn't act on term limits until after the presidential election in November, which could mean he could attempt a crafty end-run, by going through the City Council, thus avoiding public input on the existing two-term limits law.

The City Council has the right to alter term limits through an ambiguity in the law. Therefore, the mayor could legally seek legislation to seek a third term and ignore voters' wishes. Isn't that a convenient loophole that few, if any, voters are aware of?

Who knew our hard-working elected city officials could change the law on a whim to keep them in office as long as they want? Perhaps the voters should have the opportunity to let them know whether or not we agree.

Despite a lofty approval rating - around 70 percent - voters surveyed still reject another four years tacked on to city officials' terms.

Bloomberg's predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, tried the same sneaky tactic. As Giuliani's popularity and exposure soared after 9/11, he pressed the state legislature to amend the term limits law, after voters endorsed it TWICE during his tenure via referendums on the ballot. Thankfully, wiser minds prevailed and Giuliani, himself, withdrew the self-serving notion.

If elected officials try to alter laws on a whim, someone should remind them that many voters — as well as challengers — won't forget that sort of arrogance during the succeeding election.

Don't get me wrong, I like Mike — a heckuva lot — and applaud his exceptional achievements, but where does he get the nerve to try to change legislation voters endorsed in 1993 and again in 1996? If Bloomberg chooses to change term limits, that's fine, as long as it takes affect after he leaves office and it's not grandfathered in so incumbents can remain in office.

Nevertheless, the mayor and the City Council should not have the capability to change the rules to run the city for four more years without legitimate voter support.

What's next? Four terms, five terms…Mayor of New York for life?

All these years in City Hall must have clouded his memory because it was Mike Bloomberg who, when he ran for mayor with no government experience, used the argument that "a new guy can do better." That statement obviously persuaded some voters to elect him with one of the slimmest margins in city mayoral elections.

But, now it's time for him to go.

Not long after he took office, Bloomberg denounced the City Council's attempt to change term limits in 2002 and declared, "I do think after you've asked the public to express their views twice, you don't try to circumvent the public's will…and we should live with the results."

Those who challenge term limits argue that it hampers progress due to legislator turnover, making tested leaders less effective. However, if it takes council members more than eight years to complete projects they proposed then they don't deserve to be public servants! The last thing the city needs are career politicians, like the ones who impede governmental progress in Congress and the state legislature. Besides, fresh faces have the potential to infuse fresh ideas into city government.

In the not-too-distant past legitimate third terms were fruitless for Mayor Ed Koch and governors Mario Cuomo and George Pataki.

In a recent New York Times survey, 27 incumbent council members supported extending term limits. That's hardly a surprise, and those pols clearly forgot that most of them only got elected because of term limits!

So, whose will is more consequential, several dozen self-serving politicians or millions of voters? This is, after I last checked, still a democracy.

If Michael Bloomberg wants to remain City Hall's chief resident another four years, the least he can do is get a referendum on the November ballot, and put the matter to rest for the time being.

I hope he doesn't serve a third term as mayor and, instead, campaigns for the statehouse in 2011. The state legislature could use Bloomberg's leadership skills and financial acumen to turn things around, and maybe undo the mess in the Albany that's been mismanaged by too few for too long.

In the end, though, two term limits have been the people's first choice — TWICE. So, until the voters have another chance to add a third term for Council members, the mayor and other city offices, the status quo is adequate.

And speaking of limits, evidently there's no limit to the nerve of politicians who attempt to revise laws without an iota of participation from the voters who picked them to serve and who oppose overturning the two-term limit.

Before hastily revising the law, perhaps local elected officials should recall the words of Abraham Lincoln: "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."

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