Council Votes To Extend Its Own Term
By Brian M. Rafferty
With a final vote Thursday of 28-23, the City Council voted to overturn the will of the people and extend term limits to three consecutive terms.
Council members from Queens were split 8-6, with members Leroy Comrie (D-St, Albans), Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), James Sanders (D-Laurelton), Helen Sears (D-Jackson heights), Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) and Tom White Jr. (D-South Ozone Park) voting in favor of the bill.
Proposed by Mayor Mike Bloomberg three weeks ago after seven years of rumor and discussion, the bill was presented without enough time for the matter to go before the voters in the upcoming November election.
An amendment offered at the last minute to still allow the voters the ability to speak their voice on the matter before the bill could become law was defeated after a heated discussion on the council floor by a vote of 28-22, with only Councilman Sanders abstaining.
Voting from Queens against the amendment were Anthony Como (R-Middle Village), Comrie, Katz, Vallone and White.
“Term limits were born out of a deep cynicism held by the public,” Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) said. “We need to put it back to the people.”
Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) added “it is undemocratic and disgraceful” to extend term limits without bringing the question back to the people. Do you want to be remembered as the politician who voted to overturn the will of the people? I don’t think you do.”
Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) spoke of the disenfranchisement of the voters. “We have spent the last seven years telling people that democracy is not a spectator sport. He added that voters will rightfully suspect that the game is fixed.”
Katz, who voted against the amendment and for the bill said that she would have preferred that the process had begun sooner, and that the people had a choice. “I would have preferred a referendum,” she said prior to Thursday’s vote.
“Most people want some sort of consistency” in their representation during the current fiscal crisis, she said.
Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea) told reporters before the vote that there was no conflict inherent in the Council’s decision. “We often vote on laws that have a direct impact on us,” she said.
Quinn added that if the voters “don’t think that the leadership of the city should remain during a time of fiscal crisis, they can vote us out… The essence of good government is that elected officials do what they think is right,” even though the decision may not be popular.
Como took a very different stance. “I’m very worried about what I’m seeing today,” he told his fellow Council members. “Are we kidding ourselves? The people have listened and made their choice not one but twice. We must vote no on the amendment and vote no on 845a.”
Vallone said that strict adherence to two terms hurts New York City. “It prevents the council from being an effective check on the mayor,” he said. “When the practical application of that ideal would paralyze this city, it is much better to be a responsible leader, not cool.”
The Working Families Party had been orchestrating a campaign with several members of community media, including the Queens tribune, to stop the overturn of the voters’ will. Dan Cantor, Working Families Party executive director, tried to put a positive spin on Thursday’s vote.
“While we came up short on the floor of the city council, this entire process has reinvigorated New York City’s democracy,” he said. “What emerged was a broad-based coalition of tens of thousands of New Yorkers united in the belief that regular people can make a difference in the life of our city.”
“Today was the beginning,” he added. “In the weeks and months ahead, our city will face tremendous challenges. We plan to marshal the energy of the coalition that emerged in this fight to continue to press the issues and needs of working families.”
“Sometimes, just standing up is winning.”
The vote leaves next year’s election field in disarray, with several Council members undecided about whether they will seek a third term in office, seek higher office or choose a different option altogether.
Chester Hicks, who reached out to the Tribune following the vote, expressed his disappointment with his own Council member.
“As a neighbor, friend, campaigner and voter I am extremely disappointed in Council Member Helen Sears’ vote to extend term limits,” he said. “In my opinion she knuckled under the pressure of an elitist and disregarded the referendum establishing a two term limit. Her vote is also self serving.”