THE TOPIC IS TERMS, BUT THE DISCUSSION HAS BEEN ANYTHING BUT LIMITED.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made the most public foray, canvassing publishers of the city’s three largest daily newspapers last month about their support for extending the limits on citywide offices from two terms to three. He has since sat on the fence, deliberately keeping his views on the matter a mystery. The idea was enough to set many on the City Council atwitter. Last week, the Bronx’s Oliver Koppell said he will soon introduce a bill to extend limits to three terms.
This feels like déjà vu all over again to those paying attention to city politics. Several times since term limits were enacted, elected officials have weighed various options in modifying the law. In the past, both Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn have said that the issue had been decided by voters; but now, as the end of their terms near, they appear to be having second thoughts. It’s time to stop these efforts that, given their timing, look like a transparent power grab from a handful of soon-to-be-out-of-work elected officials.
Certainly a legitimate discussion can be had about whether or not term limits should exist, and if two or three (or four, for that matter) are the right number to prefer. But voters have weighed in twice-in 1993 and 1996-to limit politicians to two terms, and the result has been an infusion of fresh faces and talent. Yes, some of this talent will be forced to leave, thanks to the very laws that paved the way to their election in the first place. But surely those capable officials will find other ways to contribute their expertise, and the city will get the chance to clean house of less-than-stellar performers. Other would-be legislators are waiting in the wings, with new ideas and a different perspective on the city’s problems. If a term limit discussion must take place, focus it on the State Legislature, where entire careers can pass without a real election challenger for incumbents.
What’s worst about this latest flirtation with term limit extension, however, is the timing. It is conveniently too late for a voter referendum in the 2008 election-and, we’d argue, a waste of time and money, since this issue has already been reviewed by the public. So the Council is considering acting on its own accord.
Had efforts to modify term limits begun a few years ago, or if they applied to future Council members, this campaign might have some integrity. As it stands, the Council can’t act without looking utterly self-serving in trying to get a four-year job extension. It is time for the pro-term limit crowd to stop thinking about their own future and start focusing on the city’s.
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