2008-10-23 / This Week's Attitude

This Week's Attitude

Democracy Can't Be Ignored In Term Limits Decision
By Neil S. Friedman


Barring a restraining order, the term limits controversy could be resolved today if the City Council, as announced, votes on Michael Bloomberg's plan to revise the term limits law that would allow the mayor and most of the city's elected officials to serve a third four-year term. The vote comes on the heels of two packed public hearings over a 20-hour period last week where both sides of the controversy aired their contrasting opinions.

The city's legislative body has two options. One package would allow elected officials, including incumbents, to serve three terms. The other would require a voter referendum to be held (probably in late winter or early spring) to make such a change.

They should, without hesitation, opt for the latter, but being politicians, most of 'em will likely do what's in their own best interests, not their constituents'.

What the heck do these pompous politicians think a democracy is anyway? It's taken for granted that laws are made to be amended, but preferably when the electorate — that's you, me and your neighbors — endorses it. In 1993 and again in 1996, New York City voters approved ballot referendums supporting two four-year terms for the mayor, city council members and others. Unless voters get a third opportunity, the status quo should be sufficient.

When he campaigned eight years ago, and then subsequently took over the reins at City Hall, Mike Bloomberg didn't think city officials should be allowed to serve three terms. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

While campaigning for his first term, Bloomberg said, "…a new guy can do better."

That statement — not to mention the two-term limits law — helped get him elected with one of the slimmest margins in the history of city mayoral elections. Today, that declaration apparently means nothing to Bloomberg.

As some speculated, the mayor did a 180 last month — and circumvented the electoral process — when he presented the term-limit altering proposal to the City Council last month.

To make matters worse, the mayor's plan calls for the change to be permanent.

Whoa! Permanent, as in eternal, everlasting and forever?

Most voters, including yours truly, incorrectly assumed the measure would only involve this mayor and current office holders. But clever deals were obviously made behind closed doors prior to the public hearings.

When Bloomberg made the formal announcement to seek a one-term extension, he said he "didn't want to walk away" in these tough times and had a job to finish.

So what happens if the job is still unfinished in four years? Does Mike sweet-talk the City Council into another term?

Then what? Four terms, five terms…Mayor of New York for life?

Give him an inch and he'll take a mile!

Thanks, but no thanks. Despite the crest of popularity that he's been on the last several years, he's not indispensable. More than likely, the city will thrive and recover without Mike Bloomberg. Let's take a chance on a new guy, like we did with him — even though the current crop of mayoral wannabes is not that thrilling.

Bloomberg had ample opportunity to get a referendum added to November's ballot, but he deliberately waited until after that deadline passed before he committed to a third term, knowing he could cajole term-limited members of the City Council into backing his plan. Opponents have accused Bloomberg of bullying tactics and promises of special treatment if they support his term limits extension agenda. The mayor's office has flatly denied employing such sneaky strategies to secure backing.

When you examine most surveys, there's been a consistent majority telling the mayor that two's enough. All they are saying is don't subvert the will of the people.

Are you listening Mayor Mike — or are your ego and the tens of millions you'll likely spend to remain in City Hall getting in the way?

Early last month when a reporter asked him if he would run for a third term, Bloomberg abruptly replied, "Which letter in the word 'no' do you not understand?" At the time, the mayor even indicated he wouldn't act on the matter until after next month's presidential election. But, it appears, he's just another flip-floppin' politician.

"No" still means "No" — even when you're a popular mayor who's full of himself.

At least 26 out of the 51 members must vote in favor of the bill. Prior to the vote, it was estimated there were 20 members who said they would reject the bill, 16 who support it and 15 are undecided. Some in the latter grouping are merely waiting to be assured they can run for a third term before they support the mayor, which could guarantee the bill's passage.

Many of the successes of the Bloomberg administration are due to its relentless PR machine that has boosted it whenever the mayor wanted something accomplished. But it has had its bumps along the way. For instance, Mike squandered millions of taxpayer dollars on bidding for the 2012 Olympics, which may seem like a first-rate idea, but would result in massive traffic congestion, detours and logistical chaos waiting to happen. He also sided with real estate developer Bruce Ratner for the impending boondoggle known as Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. He also wasted millions trying to build a West Side stadium and couldn't manage enough support in Albany to get his traffic congestion traffic plan approved.

Despite those and some other shortcomings, Bloomberg's approval rating has remained around 70 percent for quite some time, yet voters surveyed still oppose another four years tacked on to city officials' terms. Some want Mike to stick around for four more years, but they're not as eager when it comes to incumbent Council members. Nevertheless, the deal covers all elected officials, not just this mayor.

Even changing term limits without voter approval would be fine, as long as it takes affect after current office holders leave and it isn't grandfathered in for the expediency of incumbents.

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

Any novice civics student knows the first three words of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution are: "We, the People…"

And that, Mr. Mayor, says it in all!

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