After All These Years: Another Term Limits Column
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I’m with Henry Stern.
My friend, colleague, and city elder who shares this page with me has been most vocal about the injustice that has been done by the Charter Revision Commission which did its job and will put on the ballot the opportunity for the people to once again affirm that they favor a two-term limit for City Councilmembers, Borough Presidents and Citywide Officials.
When the Mayor had the Council usurp the people’s authority and change the people’s law from two to three terms, he promised to make fixing it a priority of a Charter Revision Commission – and he did. And the Commission did part of its job approving a referendum allowing the people to restore the two-term limit – this time prohibiting Councilmembers from extending their own terms.
However, and Henry deals with it in some depth below, the new law if passed, does not go into effect until 2021. The Charter Revision Commission had the opportunity to make the effective date the next Council election, 2013. They instead chose to grant two clases of incumbent Councilmem-bers a bye on a law the people have voted for twice and are likely to enact again this November.
The law was first passed by a referendum of the people in 1993 and now if passed for the third time, it will finally be in place permanently – or until changed by referendum or revolution – in 2021, an entire generation later.
I just don’t get it. CUNY Chancellor, Matt Goldstein, the Commission chair, is a man with an impeccable reputation. However, he has fallen victim to politics, misjudgment or worse by allowing the Commission to offer only a 2021 date for enactment.
The Commission could have allowed the people to vote on the date or could have made it 2013 which is what we believe the people would have selected.
This writer is not a Charter Revision expert or Constitutional scholar, but believes the Commission still can right this terrible wrong. Considering members of the Commission didn’t vote on the proposal, there is no reason it can’t reconvene and revote. There is still plenty of time to print the November ballot and educate the public as to its options.
By the end of Election Day this year, the people will have voted three times for a two term limit. It seems that any fair Commission would not make them wait three Council elections for their law to be enacted.
The term limit fiasco has been an ugly period in the Democratic history of our city. The Commission finally has the ability to bring it to an end. They must not let the dark period linger until 2021.
I’m with Henry and wer’re both with the people.
|Mike Schenkler and Tom White
Photo by Ira Cohen
I first met Tom White in 1973 or 74. I was an assitant Principal in a New York City Special Education school for what was then called Socially Maladjusted Emotionally Disturbed students. Substance abusers were included in the very large tent of kids that regular schools didn't want.
I knew one high school aged youngster graduating from Tom’s innovative J-CAP theraputic community for substance abusers but in need of transition before returning to a mainstream school.
Working with an innovative staff we worked with this student and I got to know the work and concern of Tom White. I spent the next five years involved in similar programs throughout the City and the work of Tom at J-CAP served as a model for many successful programs.
He ran for office and served many years as a Councilmember. But Tom, who succumbed to cancer shall always serve as my model of committment to battling substance abuse and helping its younger victims.
Commission Delays Two-Term Limit Until A.D. 2021
By HENRY STERN
The Charter Revision Commission appointed by Mayor Bloomberg voted to postpone by 11 years the effective date when a two-term limit would take effect, even if the voters approve it in referendum this fall.
After a motion to put the eight-year limit into effect now was defeated, (it received six votes, eight being needed to pass), and a so-called ‘hybrid’ motion for a 2017 effective date also failed with six votes, Commission Chairman Matthew Goldstein brought the 2021 date up for a vote and it was approved 12-0, although it was not a compromise between the other two alternatives, but mandated an even longer delay in carrying out the decision made in the public referendum.
On the two previous motions, the chairman had called the roll and voted last. On the 2021 proposal he called on himself first and dramatically voted “Yes.” The 11 other members present followed suit.
A large majority of the witnesses who testified supported implementation of the referendum at the next Council election, scheduled for 2013. The speaker for a delay was Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, who had taken a leading role in supporting the two-term limit in 2008. He did not explain why he changed his mind, but as a mayoral candidate in 2013, he will be seeking support from the legislators whose eligibility he sought to prolong.
The effect of this postponement is to confer a benefit on a small group of Councilmembers, some of whom voted in 2008 to extend their eligibility. Others, who voted “no” on the change, allegedly on principle, will also have the opportunity to seek a third term, and it is likely that most of them will avail themselves of that privilege. The extension to 2021 will give the freshmen, now in their first year on the Council, the right to serve 12 years before there will be an open seat.
The rationale behind this gift of time is that, since in 2009 the three-term limit was in effect, the candidates ran with the expectation that they would be entitled to seek three terms and the city is in good faith bound to honor their belief. Those members first elected in 2005 would require the gift of a third term to have them serve into 2017. However, the public will presumably by 2010 have voted three times (1993 and 1996 were the first two) for a two-term limit.
The theory that there is a duty to fulfill the expectations of the ambitious appears as harebrained to me as it may sound to you, but it was expressed by at least one Commissioner, and it was the rationalization of others. Try to think of another justification for prolonging the implementation of the decision of the voters for a period comparable to serious prison time.
The fact is that, even if the voters approve a two-term limit in November, the Commission has arrogated to itself the power to frustrate that decision for 11 years. The proposal was offered to allow the public to decide the effective date of the two-term limit, whether at once (2013), 2017 or 2021. This idea was ignored; how can the people be trusted to make a decision of such magnitude? Don’t the mayoral appointees on the Commission know what is best for the masses?
The individual members of the Commission are, by and large, reasonably intelligent, not particularly politically sophisticated, and honorable New Yorkers. The chair is a distinguished public servant. How could all these bright people have gone so wrong? Look at Vietnam and numerous situations since then when our country has made decisions which turned out to be wrong. But those important issues had two sides and complicated facts. In this case, the facts are clear and the argument completely one-sided.
The bottom line here is that some people wanted to take care of some other people they know. And they were able to convince enough naive colleagues so that they could do it.
The remedy here is relatively simple: another referendum, with an effective date written into it so no Commission can substitute its wishes for the voters’ decision by fiddling with implementation and postponing a simple reform for over a decade.
The unanswered question is who will bell the cat? Who will step forward and take the initiative to see that the will of the people is implemented, whatever it may be. Now is the time to begin consideration of that question. It has been attributed to Edmund Burke in 1795. No one, however, really knows who said it first: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.”
To those of you who think, what difference does this make, two terms or three, you have a point. The issue, however, is not two or three terms. The issue is fairness; first the Mayor and Council circumventing the Charter in 2008 for their own benefit, and now the Commission trying to circumvent the referendum of 2010, whether they know it or not.
Americans, and New Yorkers are Americans, like to play fair, and don’t like to be disregarded or manipulated. That is what underlies this controversy. It is the same nagging issue that sharply reduced the majority the competent mayor should have received after two successful terms. Our recommendation: respect the will of the people.
“Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.” Britain’s Prime Minister Gladstone said it in 1868 addressing Parliament as Queen Victoria’s prime minister.
The City of New York should not provide golden parachutes. Not in dollars, not in years. Let the new elected officials take their places, and may they serve the public, not themselves.StarQuest@NYCivic.org