Anger, Frustration and Term Limits

By Gabe Pressman
|  Thursday, Sep 9, 2010  |  Updated 10:45 AM EDT
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Anger, Frustration and Term Limits

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg (L) and Council Speaker Christine Quinn

The people of New York will have an opportunity in November to bring back to term limits for future candidates for mayor, and other offices — but, basically, the change is far from what the people want.

A New York Times poll shows that three-fourths of the city’s voters want to reverse what the Mayor pushed through in 2008 so he could run for re-election. At that time, the Mayor persuaded City Council members -- his critics say he strong-armed them -- to drop the two-term limit. That paved the way for him to run for a third term.

But, according to the Times poll, the people of this city resent the fact that the Mayor overturned the  voters’ will, expressed in two referendums.  His critics say he bought the result he wanted through campaign contributions and other political moves. By a narrow margin, the Council gave him what he wanted: a third term.

Now it seems to be payback time -- the Times poll reports that about 73 percent of voters want to go back to a maximum of two terms for any office holder. In 1993, in a referendum, the people endorsed the same limit with 59 percent of the vote.

These numbers are an indication of anger and frustration. Even people who didn’t favor term limits are ready to vote for limiting office holders to two terms simply to get back at the Mayor.       

One man, Peter Marsala, told the Times that, when Bloomberg first took office: “I thought it was a breath of fresh air but it turns out he is an elitist. You can ride the subway if you want but it doesn’t make you the common man.”

Despite all this, the poll shows that 59% of citizens still think Bloomberg is doing a good job.

Confusing the picture is the fact that, even if the voters decide to restore the two-term limit, it won’t apply to people already holding office. They’ll still get to serve three terms. The limit will only apply to people who win office in 2013 and later.

Dick Dadey of the reform group Citizens Union told me: “I think, if the people vote for terms limits to be restored, it will show there’s a high level of public cynicism. There’s anger at the Mayor and frustration about the way this issue has been handled.”

Frustration and its companion, anger, are perhaps the prime motivators for change in government. What’s sad is that it takes so long for the city fathers, or their counterparts in Albany, to get it right.

As one postal worker told the poll: “I don’t think being a Council member or mayor should be a career job. They’re supposed to be persons who want to serve the public for two terms and that’s it -- you get a new face.”

That may not be practical in the game as it’s played in New York -- but the public seems to think it’s worth trying.

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