In 2008, spurred on by Mayor Bloomberg, the City Council overturned the will of the voters and ended a two-term limit so Bloomberg could run again.
Now, the Charter Commission has reached a novel conclusion. They want to re-instate the two-term limit for future candidates -- but those already serving their second terms at City Hall will be able to run for a third.
The net effect: the limit of two terms won’t be put into effect until the year 2013.
In other words, although the people in referendums have twice voted for term limits, they are now being asked to create a new, privileged class of office holders. Those already in office will be allowed to continue until 2021. In other words we’ll be against term limits in the present until we're for them in the future!
This is a travesty of democracy. Henry Stern, the former Parks Commissioner, says the new law should go into effect immediately. He told the Commission: “An essential injustice is being done. You are wronging the people of New York.”
The situation recalls what Bloomberg said about changing term limits in 2002. It would set, he declared, “a perilous precedent.” In 2005, the Mayor said it would be “disgraceful” to change it. But, when he decided to run for a third term, in 2009, he changed his mind.
Bloomberg outspent his opponent, Democrat Bill Thompson, by 10 to 1. The Mayor put more than $100 million into his campaign. For the richest man in New York, multi-billionaire Bloomberg, it may seem like “chump change” -- but the people didn’t like it. That’s why, many analysts agree, the Mayor won by a surprisingly narrow margin.
A civic leader, Susan Lerner of Common Cause, told me she was “conflicted” by the latest development in the deliberations of the charter commission. She has long been against making term limits a part of the city’s basic law.
“I have no doubt that this action by the Commission will be very unpopular with the voters," Lerner said. "But I have mixed feelings about it. I think a two-term limit is a very bad idea. It is not democratic. I feel very torn about this matter.”
The Commission has labored long and brought forth a mouse. If the voters say they don’t want the change, then three terms presumably will be enshrined for the future. If they vote for this wishy-washy version of term limits, it won’t happen until years from now. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
It’s a compromise, they say, but at whose expense? They want to be fair, the commission members say, to the incumbents. But what about being fair to the people of New York? Somehow, that has escaped them.