Rival Term Limits Bills Approach Council Floor
By Michael Lanza
The City Council’s term limits debate is on track to reach a dramatic conclusion as three councilmembers announced they would introduce rival bills, one extending the terms and two preserving the limits.
David Weprin (D-Hollis) became the latest councilmember to throw a bill into the three-ring circus on Sunday, announcing a bill that would prohibit term extensions without a public referendum.
“The voters have made their statement via the ballot box, not once but twice, and any change should continue to come via the ballot box,” Weprin said.
Weprin’s announcement came two days after Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) announced he would submit a similar bill.
Weprin and Avella have already set their political sights past their City Council tenures, with Weprin eyeing a run at city comptroller and Avella running for mayor. A term extension would throw both those efforts off track since it would almost certainly include term extensions for Mayor Mike Bloomberg and City Comptroller William Thompson.
The two announcements came in response to Bronx Councilman G. Oliver Koppell’s (D-Bronx) announcement on Sept. 4 that he would soon introduce a bill to extend the City Council’s tenure to a maximum of three terms. The legislation would not require a voter referendum.
The reaction to Koppell’s announcement was exacerbated by a New York Times survey that found a majority of the City Council would vote in favor of extending term limits and recent statements by Bloomberg saying he would consider an extension without a public referendum, while also vowing to veto any bill that would eliminate them.
In Queens, where many of the City Council members have already set their sights on higher office, support for extending term limits has been tepid.
Seven councilmembers are opposed to extending the term limits without a public referendum, while the remaining seven did not commit one way or the other.
Despite the luke-warm reception by Queens councilmembers, some have voiced concern about the term limits system.
“An extension only puts a Band-Aid on the fact that term limits don’t work,” Councilman Thomas White (D-Ozone Park) said. “I believe that the right to vote isn’t term limited.”
White said voters should never be barred from voting for a candidate, term limited or not – and that he was unsure why councilmembers should be limited when State Senators, State Assemblymen, U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators are not.
“The issue needs to be revisited,” White said. “See if it works or doesn’t work.”
Other councilmembers echoed White’s sentiment.
“I don’t support the concept of term limits,” Councilman John Liu said, despite voicing opposition to legislative action without a new public referendum.
Some councilmembers have also voiced concern about the City’s ability to govern if the mayor’s office and a majority of council seats are vacated at the same time in 2009.
“It’s irresponsible governing when you have so many people leaving office at the same time,” White said.
A Quinnipiac University poll in July found that 65 percent of New Yorkers opposed extending term limits. Voters have twice supported the two-term rule on the 15-year-old law – voting first to enact it in 1993 and resisting an attempt to change it in 1996.