'Thumbs Down' To Term Limits Change
The majority of local politicians, some of whom will be impacted should the present term limit law change, favor a referendum that would allow voters to decide whether or not the controversial law should change.
The controversy was sparked two weeks ago by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to seek a third term should the City Council vote to extend the term for city elected officials to 12 years from eight.
The present law, voted in by referendum in 1993, limits city elected officials to two four-year terms.
That vote was reaffirmed three years later.
Now, however, the City Council and the mayor have joined to extend the term simply on the vote of the council, without going once again to the people.
Experts say that the vote is legal under a state law, The Municipal Home Rule Law, which allows municipalities to make laws that impact only that entity.
Legal or not, some say, the City Council should not vote to overturn something that the voters have approved in two separate elections without going back to the voters one more time.
Many local politicians agree.
"This was a back room deal that excludes public input," said Congressman Anthony Weiner, who is running for mayor himself. "The right way to do this would be to hold a public referendum. There is still time to do it the right way."
"The mayor's announcement [to alter term limits] constitutes an attempt to suspend democracy," said New York City Comptroller William Thompson. "We should not undermine the will of the voters."
Frank Gulluscio, who plans to run for the City Council seat representing Rockaway, said that changing the rules reminds him of a playground bully.
"Halfway through the game, [the mayor] wants to change the rules," Gulluscio said. "When 9-11 occurred, Mayor Giuliani wanted to change the rules to allow him to stay in office, and the city said no to Rudy. We should say no now to the mayor and go back to the public in the form of a referendum."
Gulluscio says that many council members are worried that the public would react badly to a vote that would overturn two votes.
"I'm not sure the council even has the votes to change the law," he said.
City Councilman Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., who is actively running for a State Senate seat, agrees.
"I will vote no to changing the term limits law," he told The Wave. "The only way to do this democratically is to go back to the public with a referendum and see what they say."
James Sanders Jr., another of the term-limited councilman, who has not Sanders
yet announced his plans for the future, told The Wave on Tuesday that he has not yet made up his mind about whether he would support a change in the term limits law. "There is too much going on, and it istoo early to tell," a spokesperson for Sanders said.
State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer also favors the referendum route, although she says she "never favored term limits."
"Because voters [approved term limits] in the first place, the council should not put its interests before those of the people," she said. "We voted and now we should go back to the people if a change is necessary."
Reacting to the news that City Councilman Tony Avella had submitted a resolution asking the state legislature to change the law governing home rule to mandate that any change in term limits must be done by referendum, Pheffer told The Wave that she likes the home rule process, and that she would never vote to change it to serve a single person or purpose.
"You do that, and it always comes back to bite you on the tush," she said. "There are other capable people, such as Comptroller Bill Thompson, who can do the job, who know what the problem is and how to solve it," she said, adding that the mayor's contention that he is the only one who can address the present problems is not true.
Bloomberg, however has indicated to the electorate and the council that it is critical for him to serve another four year term for the good of the city.
"In thinking about the challenges ahead, beyond the direct challenge of managing the financial crisis, I have asked myself: do we have more work to do in transforming the schools, greening the environment, building vital infrastructure and record amounts of affordable housing, improving public health, investing in long term economic growth? And, the list goes on. And the answer is yes, we do have more to do - much more.
"Given the events of recent weeks and given the challenges we face, I don't want to walk away from a city I feel that I can help lead through these tough times. My whole life has prepared me for the challenges ahead and I want to give voters a chance to decide if they want me at the helm. If voters don't like what they've seen, they will vote for somebody else and that's as it should be. But whatever the council does, I'll remain focused on my job and serving New Yorkers and the city I love."