Hell, No, We Won’t Go Even Though The Law Says So
Henry J. Stern
Term limits will simmer on the back burner until after Election Day, less than two months from now. Mayor Bloomberg has told us that he will not take a position on the issue until then. Of course, it is always possible that he will change his mind again.
Since our last column, events have inched forward, but the issue of whether and when to act is far from decided. Time, however, continues to move forward.
Last week, the News turning its attention to Council Speaker Christine Quinn reported: “Pressure is mounting on City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to take a firm stand on term limits as Mayor Bloomberg publicly toys with extending them.
“When asked if he’d reached a conclusion on the topic, Bloomberg said yesterday, ‘Which letter in the word ‘no’ do you not understand?’ Bloomberg suggested he wouldn’t act on term limits until after the presidential election in November.”
The next day they reported: ‘It’s Mayor Bloomberg who’s calling the tune in the City Hall dance over changing term limits, Council Speaker Christine Quinn insisted yesterday.
The next day, the Times picked up the story : COUNCILMAN TO INTRODUCE BILL TO SOFTEN TERM LIMITS.
The Councilman involved is G. Oliver Koppell of the Bronx, who would have to leave office in 2009 unless he can get the law changed to allow him to stay. Koppell got his Council seat when popular Councilwoman June M. Eisland was forced by term limits to retire in 2001. If not for term limits, she would still have the seat. A long-time Assemblyman from Riverdale, Koppell served a little over a year as New York State Attorney General after the resignation of former Bronx Borough President Robert Abrams. He was defeated in the 1994 Democratic primary by Karen Burstein, who lost that November to Dennis Vacco, who served one term, and was defeated in turn by Eliot Spitzer in 1998.
Politics, as you can see, is a business where, sooner or later, almost everybody loses, eventually driven from office by death, defeat or dishonor. It is no surprise that some elected officials will do anything to extend their tenure, including ignoring a repeated public mandate.
One official to whom term limits would apply has a different view. Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, in her blog, wrote as follows:
“In the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk about extending term limits via a back room, closed door legislative deal. I think this is a terrible, undemocratic idea.
“I cannot support extending term limits by anything other than a public vote. Despite the popularity of our Mayor, I think it’s up to the people of New York to decide how long they want their elected officials in office, and they’ve already told us twice.”
Otherwise, the elected class is relatively silent. No one has been as unabashed as Mr. Koppell in trying to legislate an exemption. As far as we know, so far only Councilman Tony Avella of Queens, himself a mayoral candidate, has publicly opposed the scheme, saying, “Why not come out and say, ‘No matter what the mayor does we are not going to entertain this.”
Most of the other hopefuls are awaiting events. If there is a successful coup, they will take credit for it. If it is merely a beer-hall putsch, they want no part of it. President Kennedy said after the Bay of Pigs debacle in 1961 that “victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” The orphan is particularly lonely and isolated when the cause is self-serving and unjustified.
In the 1989 movie, “The War of the Roses,” Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner play a divorcing couple. In the end, they both swing on a chandelier, not wishing to give up any part of the house they shared. Somehow, the public officials facing departure from City Hall evoke the images of that film.