Monday, October 6, 2008

Term Limits: Voting Against the Voters

Noticing New York is thinking about how people should vote if the City Council accommodates Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg by repealing term limits. By people we mean the general electorate and not the City Council Members who will be debating a special repeal of term limits today.

Noticing New York thinks that repealing term limits in the middle of the election cycle already underway is a supremely bad idea: Coming to Terms With Mistakes, Wednesday, October 1, 2008.

Noticing New York is pleased to see City Council members Bill de Blasio and Letitia James and David I. Weprin pushing back with bills that would require returning to the electorate to effect a change in term limits: Countering Mayor’s Bid With a Bill to Put Term Limits in the Voters’ Hand, by Ray Rivera, October 4, 2008. Ideally, and without compromise, any change should take place after this election cycle.

We have criticized the effort being led by the Mayor as last-minute and self-serving. This effort confers unfair tactical advantage upon Bloomberg. It also raises all sorts of campaign finance questions, like what spending limits should apply to candidates who have already collected and spent money to attain city offices that have different spending limits from the offices for which they will now be running. It is, we said, a game of 52 Card Pick-up unfairly at Bloomberg’s initiative. Bloomberg consulted privately with his real estate developer constituency on the subject before he consulted with the rest of us voters.

One new thing to consider: Lawyer Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., says billionaire Bloomberg should not be allowed to seek a third term unless he agrees to a limit on his campaign spending. Mr. Schwarz was the city’s corporation counsel and chairman of a charter revision commission that effected term limits and is a former chairman of the city’s Campaign Finance Board. (See: A Call to Limit Spending if Bloomberg Runs Again, by Sam Roberts, October 5, 2008) Making unfairness worse, key participants in the public debate, such as Ron Lauder, are suggesting that the desired extension of term limits be a one-time, specifically-for-Bloomberg change in the game. (See: Lauder’s Second Thoughts on Changing Term Limits, by Michael Barbaro, October 6, 2008) Is a bill for the specific benefit on only one person even constitutional? Need we ask? And isn’t this the way rule-by-emperor ascended in Rome?

So, how should people vote if term limits are repealed? There are people like City Councilman David Yassky, who is term-limited and running for Comptroller. We would like to see him in the position of Comptroller. But, on the other hand, if he were to run for a third City Council term, we would also want to vote for him. But we would be very troubled if he gained the ability to run for City Council again because he himself were one of the City Council members voting, undesirably, to repeal term limits during this election cycle.

We suggest as a standard that the voters should vote against City Council members who vote in favor of repealing term limits during the current election cycle. We know that City Council members like Tony Avella (who is running for Mayor) will be voting against the repeal of term limits during this 2009 election cycle, but it sounds as if too many will be voting in favor of changing the game in the middle of this cycle. It is not surprising, since two-thirds of the current City Council are term-limited. (By the way, lifetime health insurance is one big extra many City Council members will get by eliminating their term limits: Hidden Cost Seen for City if Term Limits Are Shelved, by Michael Barbaro, September 12, 2008. As we support universal health care, we don’t want to begrudge anyone health care but we would sooner see the Council members simply vote themselves health care instead of changing the rules in election midstream.)

In addition to City Council members who vote in favor of repealing term limits this way, we suggest that voters categorically vote against anyone such as the Mayor or Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who support term-limit elimination during this election cycle in the hopes of being able to extend their personal tenure.

If extending term limits is a good idea, it is an idea worth waiting for. : We can wait for the next election cycle. Even if we go back to the voters to repeal term limits, we should wait until the fresh start of a new election cycle. What if someone supports letting the electorate change the term limit rules in this election cycle?- - Should we vote for them?- - That’s a harder question.

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