New Yorkers will have the chance this fall to decide whether the mayor and other elected officials should be limited to two consecutive terms, two years after Mayor Michael Bloomberg had the law changed so he could have a third term.
A panel charged with reviewing the city's laws decided Wednesday which referendum questions to put on the ballot for the Nov. 2 election. Those include term limits and questions about whether to reduce the number of petitions needed by candidates to get on the ballot and whether more transparency should be required in political spending.
Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, appointed the commission because of a promise he made after he persuaded the City Council to extend the term-limits law to three terms in 2008. He needed the law changed quickly so he could run for a third term last year, but he said at the time he would appoint a panel to possibly put the term-limits question to voters after a wider review of the charter — something that is typically done in city government every few years.
This year's panel began its work in March and has held multiple hearings all over the city, gathering opinions from hundreds of citizens. It decided to put before voters several issues, narrowed from scores of ideas.
"The questions that we're bringing forward, we believe after our due diligence, will lead to a better government, a better functioning government," said the commission's chairman, Matthew Goldstein.
Voters twice upheld a two-term limit by referenda in the 1990s. A Quinnipiac University poll in March found that voters support term limits by 70 percent to 22 percent; 55 percent of respondents said it should be limited to two terms, and 17 percent said three terms.
The commission's vote Wednesday to put the issue on the ballot was unanimous, but one commissioner spoke out against term limits, saying he supported the panel's decision but would vote against the measure in the voting booth Nov. 2.
Limiting terms "robs me of my right to choose who I want as many times as I want," Stephen Fiala said.
The wording of the questions has yet to be finalized, but the term-limits measure likely would ask voters whether New York City's charter should impose a limit of two consecutive full terms for the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough presidents and City Council members.
The charter commission also approved including a measure to let voters decide whether City Council members should be prohibited from changing the term-limits law to benefit incumbents voting on the proposal.
The commission also voted to let the voters say whether a two-term limit should take effect later for some officials, depending on which term they are serving.
Passing that measure would allow officials in their first and second terms to have the option of a third, and the two-term limit would apply to those elected on or after the 2013 November election.
In regards to petition signatures for candidates, the commission did not set a number Wednesday night but approved putting before voters a question that asks whether the city should reduce the signature requirements by about 50 percent.
Candidates for citywide office now must obtain 7,500 signatures to get on the ballot, but because of the requirements needed for each signature to be valid, they typically obtain about three times the requirement to guard against potential legal challenges.
The panel also voted to let voters consider whether any individual or entity making independent expenditures of more than $1,000 should have to disclose the spending to the city's Campaign Finance Board and whether any entity making expenditures of $5,000 or more should have to disclose the sources of the funding.
The city's more than 350-page charter is a mix of state laws, City Council laws, petitions and adopted proposals of 12 earlier charter review commissions.
The last charter review was in 2005. Voters approved both referendum questions — one that created an ethics code for administrative judges and one that established certain fiscal duties for the city.