2008-11-14 / Letters

Political Take On Term Limits

Dear Editor,

The term limits battle that just concluded is worth a moment's reflection, even as we re-double our energies on the national election, the State Senate, and the financial crisis engulfing so many people.

The NYC City Council voted last Thursday to extend term limits for themselves and other city officials, most prominently the Mayor. The WFP argued hard that they should not do so by legislative action - but that instead they should put it on the ballot and let the voters decide.

We weren't alone in this view. The polling numbers were astounding — a vast majority (89 percent) of New Yorkers wanted a ballot referendum on the question.

It didn't happen, but not for a lack of speaking up. People waited on long lines to testify at hearings that ran until midnight. Tens of thousands called and emailed their council members, many contacting their elected officials for the first time. Tens of thousands more signed petitions online and in the streets. WFP supporters were there every step of the way.

In the end, the City Council chose to ignore this clamor. They were within their rights to do so, but we felt until the end that it was a mistake, and both they and the people would have been better served by a popular vote. It would be easy to call the whole term limits episode simply another political power grab and leave it at that. But that's not even half the story.

The vote was 29-22, one of the closest City Council votes in recent memory. So while we lost on the floor, that's the only place we lost. In the court of public opinion, we won.

This fight was never about the merits of term limits themselves. Nor was it about whether the Mayor deserved a third term.

Indeed, many WFP supporters oppose term limits, and no doubt would have worked in favor of the extension had there been a referendum. What united us was the view that "the consent of the governed" is the most precious principle in democracy, and it was being violated in an overly hasty process led by the Mayor and Speaker.

So, we want to thank everyone who pitched in. It was a gigantic civic conversation, and the WFP is proud to have helped make it happen together with Citizens Union, Common Cause, NYPIRG and the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who spoke out.

We hope we can channel the democratic outpouring we witnessed these last few weeks into the months to come. We are about to face some very hard times in New York City and State. But if we work together we can get through it without damaging the public institutions — the schools, the subways, the hospitals and everything else — that form part of our social fabric.

DAN CANTOR EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR WORKING FAMILIES PARTY

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