Mayor and City Council Want Four More Years
Most of the city knows that the basis of the Mayor’s decision to seek a third term is based, in part, on his continuing personal desire for relevance and attention. The more such wishes are gratified, the more they grow. The quest for fame, recognition and approval is as addictive as the craving for drugs, alcohol, and inappropriate sex. These feelings do not fade with time. This mayor is far from the worst in this area, it is simply that his ambition plays out on a grander and more public scale.
Nor does this mean that such a personal longing may not coincide with the public interest in competent, professional and honest government. He is known as an able and effective public official, particularly good in areas where he has expert knowledge. He has used some of his money and his unusually able staff to make himself a national leader.
Experts and the public agree that Bloomberg has been a good mayor for two terms. In the 20th century, three mayors served three terms, LaGuardia, Wagner and Koch. It is generally agreed in each case that the third term was the least satisfying to the public.
We believe that the people should be given the opportunity to re-elect the mayor if they so desire. It may be unfair for him to be forbidden to run by a 12-year old decision, but it was the decision of the people. The fairness argument is weakened somewhat by the fact that the mayor will spend $100 million or more to secure re-election. Is that fair to his opponents? The United States Supreme Court ruled, however, in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) that money is speech, and limits on spending your own money are unconstitutional infringements of free speech.
There is the small problem that what the mayor wants to do happens to be illegal under the City Charter. It would violate a provision approved by public referenda in 1993 and 1996. That’s no problem for 51 jolly incumbents, they’ll just change the charter. That path may or may not be legal, the courts will decide, probably next year. There is, however, no law that says the Council cannot overrule the public on a specific issue that has been decided by referenda, although there certainly should be.
If the public, in referendum, choose to amend or repeal term limits, there would be nothing morally wrong about such a decision. It’s reasonable for people to be of different minds on the issue.
But it is the people, not the incumbent officials, who should decide how long the people they elect should be allowed to serve. The argument that elections provide automatic term limits is disingenuous. People do not generally know who their Councilmember is, their districts are gerrymandered for racial and political reasons, and the media generally do not cover local races.
There is a stronger rationale for extending the mayor’s eligibility from two terms to three than there is for the Council. The people know who is running for mayor, and whether they like him or her. Most have no such insight regarding their local councilmember.
Nonetheless, the Council, as a price for giving the mayor a shot at a third term, has demanded it for themselves. And the mayor, who recently said that an extension of term limits was “disgusting,” finds four extra years for these relative nonentities a small price to pay for giving him four more years to save the city from fiscal ruin.
For the 51 Councilmembers extending their own terms in defiance of two referenda would be the mother of conflicts of interest.
It may be legal, but it stinks. The particular irony here is that most of today’s incumbents are on the council only because their predecessors were forced out in 2001 by the term limits law. So the beneficiaries of term limits now seek unilaterally to repeal the law that put them in the council in the first place.
Term extension would be a joke if the mayor were not personally involved. There is a credible case that he would be a better and more effective mayor than any of his current rivals. The field, however, is comparable with other years. There are many months left for other candidates to join the race. It is for the people, however, not the incumbent Councillmem-bers, to determine eligibility to run.
A just solution to the problem is possible, legal, fair and reasonable. Let there be a Charter Revision Commission, with the object of submitting proposals to extend term limits. Let the voters decide at a special referendum whether or not they favor it. Preferably, the proposal should not come from the Council itself, laden as it is with self-interest, but from a Charter Revision Commission, which would hold hearings, consider alternatives and place their recommendation on the ballot in the Spring.
Those who would not give the public a chance to vote on whether their earlier decisions should be repealed or amended are self-serving enemies of democracy. They deserve the public contempt which eventually they will receive.
We hope that the council will follow the democratic process in this matter. If they seek to over-rule the public by their own fiat, many New Yorkers will be disappointed.
The mayor deserves an opportunity to seek re-election, which if done properly would conform with fairness and justice. His change of heart does not bother us particularly; no one voted for him in 2005 because they thought it was his final term. Never say never: People have the right to rethink their views, especially when the public interest is involved as well as their own.
The fact that in this case a personal imperative appears dominant does not mean that he should be barred from taking his case to the people. They should be the final voice on this issue. They have spoken twice, but the last time was 12 years ago, and it is not unreasonable to ask them again. For the legislature to attempt to over-rule the public will on its own would be an insult to the democratic process.
This is probably the most important vote that Councilmembers will take in this session. It is more than a vote on term limits, it is a vote on the rule of law and justice. We will soon learn where each Councilmember stands.