Adventure Of Council Term Limits
apologies to those of you who think it is important that columns of
political commentary address the war in Iraq.
I, too, am absorbed with accounts coming from the battlefield and the
national and international impact of the action, I believe I can add
little to what has been said. Our paper continues to cover the local
impact and views and I am in touch with my friend from Queens — NY1
Anthony Ramsey — who sent me the following email from Kuwait:
all is well in Kuwait. It has been extremely busy as you can imagine but
since it is so ‘dynamic’ here, things change all the time. We may
get a ride into Iraq soon, but it is not promised. Keeping my head on a
swivel and taking no chances. A US soldier today was arrested for
throwing two grenades inside a tent in North Kuwait. Crazy huh? Tell
everyone I am just fine and still having the time of my life.”
the world focus was oversees, New York political focus was on a major
bump in the 10-year adventure of term limits for the New York City
Council. And while our thoughts and prayers (there, I said it) are with
our troops, our story is here where the Tribune has been
in the middle of the decade-long adventure..
me explain . . . .
TERM LIMITS TALE
1993, cosmetics heir and defeated NYC mayoral wannabe Ron Lauder funded
a petition and referendum establishing term limits for the mayor,
comptroller, public advocate, borough presidents, and city
councilmembers. The referendum passed overwhelmingly.
1996, led by then-Speaker Peter Vallone, the Council tried to push
through a referendum changing the Council term limits from two to three
terms. The people rejected it. This was an attempt for the first term
limited class to extend their own years in the Council.
2001, as they faced the end of their terms, the incumbent first term
limited Council — 38 of 51 were term limited — proposed a law which
would have repealed term limits without a referendum.
Tribune was the first paper and clearly the loudest to
yell. We never supported term limits, however we were passionate in our
fight to prevent its repeal without a referendum. We expressed, week
after week in our column and pages, that a law passed by the people
could only be repealed by the people. We hammered it home – we even
placed the faces of the Queens members who were involved in the effort
on the front page behind bars with the headline “Wanted for Crimes
Against the People.” We challenged Speaker Vallone — then a
candidate for Mayor — to stop the undemocratic effort at the expense
of his own political future. He finally relented and the Trib
was recognized, credited and congratulated for our effort.
the story didn’t end there. The new council was elected and our friend
Giff Miller, with the help of the Queens delegation became speaker. Giff
was one of seven members (of 51) term limited at the end of this year.
are generally elected for four years — every 20 years, due to
redistricting, terms are two consecutive two year terms instead of four
— and were limited to 2 complete terms, one of which had to be a four
year term by the people’s law.
was masterful and orchestrated what he called a term limit “tweak”
– I’m not getting into his rationale now – but it redefined a term
as four years, which meant he and his six colleagues could run again for
another two year term this year. He would remain speaker for two more
years. All of this, in spite of the clear language of the term limit law
passed by the people.
is brilliant and sold all the good government groups and papers and even
Ron Lauder that the Council had the right to “fix” or “adjust”
the term limit law — he claimed it really wasn’t a change.
didn’t buy it. My column clearly yelled “you can’t change the
people’s law without a referendum.” Giff wrote a column in the Trib
giving his side. We opposed it and editorially stood alone in this city.
The law passed the Council overwhelmingly.
Wednesday, judge Gerard Rosenberg threw out the Council’s “tweak”
and basically said to change the term of a Councilmember requires a
referendum. He reaffirmed what we have been shouting all along.
Miller out, a power struggle would begin for the next speaker and the
committee chairs and perks that come with it.
Giff and company are appealing the judge’s decision, but this round
clearly belongs to the people. I’ve been on the phone ever since the
decision, with councilmembers speculating about prospective speaker
candidates, and over with the Chicago Sun Times, who called City
Hall looking for someone to tell the term limit story from the
people’s side and were referred to me.
Tribune has spent many an hour and several trees in
fighting what we believe is the good fight — to change a law passed by
the people requires a vote of the people. For this moment, the courts
not over, but it’s wonderful to be in the mix. It’s wonderful for
journalism and it’s wonderful for the people.
Race For Next Speaker
Council Majority Whip; Chair, Rules
as “A Consensus Builder” by colleagues, Comrie is likely the
first choice of the powerful Queens County Dem Organization. He
is a man of color in a City of minorities. He is universally
liked and repected.
Comrie as frontrunner +
Chair, Land Use
bright and knowledgeable, Katz is winning respect as a serious
player while she builds her base in the Council.
Katz as coming on strong +
Chair, Finance Committee
Finance Chair, his committee brings influence. But Weprin has
failed to capitalize on the Council’s second most powerful
position and has clearly fallen from former frontrunner status
since he has not won over many collegues.
Weprin as fading –
Vallone, Jr. +
Chair, Public Safety Committee
as courageous and independent by his collegues, Vallone, Jr. has
come on strong recently. If he can win over the Queens Dem
leadership, he could be the strong finisher.
Vallone as the surprise contender +
Council Majority Leader
bright but young son of the Bronx County Dem Chair will enter the
race with that delegation but little more. The Council admires
youth, but it won’t elect a Speaker in his early twenties.
Rivera as a candidate in name only –
Chair, Youth Services Committee
members like and admire Fidler for his intelligence and know how.
He works well with the other members but has a divided delegation.
He is, however, building an impressive following.
Fidler as a serious contender +
de Blasio -
de Blasio is regarded for his smarts but his popularity is
not universal. It appears he can’t capture a majority of his own
de Blasio as slightly fading -
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
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