Challenge to power grab

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Two Brooklyn lawmakers last week proposed city legislation that would enable voters to decide if all city elected office-holders can run for a third four-year term.

Under the bill sponsored by City Councilmembers Letitia James and Bill de Blasio, a Charter Revision Commission would be created, which in turn would draft a charter extending term limits.

The revised charter would then be put before the voters in a special election in early 2009.

“Mayor Bloomberg cannot silence the voices of New Yorkers who have spoken out loud and clear,” said James. “We are putting the power back into the hands of the people.”

The new proposed measure comes as Mayor Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn are drafting their own version of extending term limits legislatively without a popular vote.

As this paper goes to press, Quinn was expected to make her proposal public.

Legally the extension of term limits could happen with a majority City Council vote, despite two public referendums – in 1993 and 1996 – in which city voters overwhelmingly supported limiting all elected officials to two four-year terms.

The issue of expanding term limits will immediately affect 11 of the 16 borough City Council members, who under the current law will be term limited out.

Among these are de Blasio and Charles Barron, who have both announced they are running for borough president, and David Yassky, who is running for City Comptroller.

De Blasio said he will vote against any term limit extension law that does not first go before voters. He has also said he is undecided what he will do if term limits are expanded, meaning he would consider running for a third term as a $112,500 per year City Council member.

Barron said he is voting against any bill that even considers expanding term limits.

“It [the de Blasio/James bill] is hypocritical by saying they want the people to speak again after the people already spoke in 1996,” said Barron. “We already changed the law.”

Barron said he is leaning against running for re-election, but will leave a small window open to see how his constituents and organization feel about the matter.

Yassky has not indicated which way he would vote on either of the de Blasio/James bill or a Quinn/Bloomberg version.

If any bill proposed makes a one-time exception to a third term, it will have an effect on Council members such as James who will not be term limited out in the 2009 city elections.

Thus several of the City Council members now in their first term may only get two terms while their colleagues will get three terms as part of any one-time only legislation.

The idea of extending the term limits by one four-year term gained steam after the term-limited Bloomberg said he would support it if the City Council passed such a measure.

“We have prepared for a slow down in New York City and we may be on the verge of a meltdown. Handling this financial crisis while strengthening essential services such as education and infrastructure is something that I want to continue to do,” said Bloomberg.

“Make no mistake, I still think term limits are a good thing. Two terms or three terms is a very different debate. The question is what is an appropriate time for governing an office,” he added.

However, James and de Blasio counter that financial crisis or not, the ideals of democracy are at stake.

“This city knows what tough times are like, and we can get through the current crisis without suspending critical elements of our democracy; a democracy that makes New York City stronger,” said James.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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