Thursday, June 16, 2005

Responses to "There They Go Again"

Attached are responses to my article written on June 14 regarding the movement in the New York City Council to pass a referendum extending councilmembers' term limits.


  1. This column was thoroughly enjoyable - for its righteous vigor, its absolute accuracy in describing the self-serving mediocrity of the City Council, and
    its evocative language and dry humor. One of your best!

  2. Ahem!

    Henry J. Stern served as Parks Commissioner under two mayors: for seven years under Edward I. Koch (1983-1990) and eight years under Rudolph W. Giuliani (1994-2001), longer than any other commissioner except Robert Moses.

    You were generally regarded as an outstanding Parks Commissioner. I was among those who admired your work. (Moses, on the other hand, gets a rather negative review, as in the Caro book.)

    I have mixed feelings about term limits. It was touted by Republicans in Congress, when they had been out of office for a very long time. Most who ran in support of term limits changed their minds when elected.

    Certainly term limits are on one sense undemocratic. Why shouldn't a respected and experienced person remain in office more than four years if the voters want him (or her) to remain? I know that gerrymandering makes some offices more or less permanent (See the present House, for example); but there is a good pro-democratic argument on the other side. The Constitutional restriction on a term limit for the president was put through by Roosevelt haters. Oddly enough, they came to regret it when Eisenhower was in office.

  3. Henry,

    I really have no opinion on term limits. However, I do feel that if someone serves two terms they should be eligible for a pension based on time served. I am not sure if they are entitled to a pension after only eight years of public service. Do you know the answer? It would be a reward for taking the prime years of their lives. I guess that I do have an opinion after all.

  4. Well said! As Fiala intoned, even though I regard term limits as an infringement on the rights of a vigilant electorate (if ever one to exist), the People have spoke - twice. I think Giff, while very likable and diligent, really pushed any goodwill to the limit by extending his Mayoral platform for another two years (then again, who really can blame him for trying - and succeeding). How others can push it anymore is beyond the pale of reason, but sadly, ultimately not surprising

  5. Dear Henry,

    I love your work, but I've got to offer a correction, and what I believe is an essential addition, to your recent piece "There They Go Again."

    The piece states that "Lindsay went on to win re-election on the Liberal Party line in November, the first and only time the Liberals elected a mayor on their own."

    But the Liberals never did elect a mayor on their own. After losing the Republican primary to Staten Islander John Marchi, the Lindsay forces hastily cobbled together the "Independent" party (whose symbol, perhaps ironically, was the silhouette of a bridge that most closely resembled the Verrazanno.)

    The purpose for this exercise was to give the 68% of Democratic voters who had voted for opponents of primary victor Mario Proccaccino a place to vote for Lindsay other than on the Liberal line.

    This proved necessary, as the votes for Lindsay on that "Independent" line had to be added to his Liberal line votes to beat Procaccino's total on the Democratic line alone.

    In fact (here comes the addition,) it was this embarrassing loss, caused by going into the general election with a standard bearer who had won only 32% of the primary vote, that caused NYC Democrats to push through the provision that now requires a runoff primary where a citywide candidate fails to get at least 40% in the first primary.

    I trust this has duly reminded you.

  6. Bravo. Keep up the good work.

  7. StarQuest:
    Good points - -
    Give them Hell!!!!

  8. I find it not so unusual that there will be an introduction to extend a councilmember's term limit from two terms to three.

    As I see it, Councilmember Brewer is similar to those in Washington who do not adhere to the people's decision on this issue, but to their own perpetual gain and eventual control.

    We see those of the extreme right quietly, continuously chipping away at The Constitution for ideological gain, i.e., eventual, total national control. An action such as Councilmember Brewer proposes is part and parcel of that but coming from the other extreme to reach the same ideological goal on a local level.

    They are both similar to the old Communists of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Yes, you can vote but we win and we control.

    Both those in DC and those here at home have a goal of creating a society dominated by one party regardless of how the people feel. The count on and unfortunately so, the lack of people's interest.

    Be they Democrat or Republican, within their ranks yes, the Rascals are out there. This time around they are even more blatant and even more without shame.

  9. Hey Henry,

    Fun article.

    I basically agree with your points.

  10. SQ, WAY TO GO! I'm with you and am going to make this an issue in my

  11. Henry,
    Although I am personally against the idea of term limits I do respect the views and wishes of the voting population. I agree that two referendums on the issue should be sufficient to the members of the City Council that term limits are here to stay. Even when Giuliani tried to extend his mayoral term after 9/11 the general population felt that democracy trumps convenience.
    I will leave you a humorous note concerning term limits. In the original 1898 Charter consolidating the City of New York, or as it was known then the City of Greater New York, all the former mayors of the absorbed cities and towns, such as Battle Ax Gleason of Long Island City, were given non-voting lifetime appointments to the City Council. This appointment also allowed each ex-mayor to collect a City Councilmember salary. But the definition of lifetime appointment in the political world of New York City is a little different then a lifetime appointment as a Federal Judge. This provision of the 1898 Charter was removed in 1906 eliminating a perk no doubt given to local executives for their support of the consolidation of the City.

  12. Maybe owning a saloon should be a prerequisite to being on the City Counsel.

  13. Attempts by office holders to abrogate the vox populi as expressed in referenda on term limits is not isolated to NYC Council members.

    Out on Long Island, in the Town of Islip, term limited Supervisor Pete McGowan is flexing political muscle to also abrogate the voters' twice referenda expressed preference for term limits.

    In Islip, it has resulted in an incumbent Councilmember (Christopher Bodkin) being denied renomination by the GOP as he has assailed Supervisor McGowan's efforts to subvert the public will.

    In a way, it is a form of political farce set to the background music of political hangers-on singing, "Anything you can do, I can do better;" with refrains ad infinitum e nauseam.
    Now my dear Starquest, to paraphrase history: "We hold these truths to be self evident" that not all New Yorkers stop reading the rags when on summer weekends or vacation, although I fear we are in a decided minority!

  14. Hello Henry,

    Read your story about the old Board of Alderman and "alderman your saloon is on fire"...the contemporary way to clear the Chamber would be for a Sgt-at-Arms to announce "Council Member there is a TV crew on the steps." Even the chamber's doors are not wide enough for that stampede.

    Have a nice day Henry.

  15. Henry, I so enjoy your articles. So relevant, and so entertaining!

  16. Thanks for the refresher. I care more about eliminating the BEEP do-nothing, stepping stone positions than I do about term limits. On the whole, I find term limits a Republican/populist idea that sounds better than it works. It is really dreadful when applied to important executive positions
    such as mayor, governor (in other states) and president (passed to spite FDR and not a proud moment in US history). If as Publius said, we need energy in the executive, we cannot have them quacking like lame ducks two years into the second term.

  17. While I oppose the limiting of the US President to two terms [and makes him a LAME DUCK after 6 years with reduced powers], I voted twice for the city council limits, and I think they should be adhere to.

    Pepe II served as pharaoh until 99.

    If the people find an FDR, Adenhauer, Margaret Thatcher and want to keep reelecting
    him or her; FINE!!!

    I think Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton could probably been re-elected.

    Unfortunately, the City Council is dominated by a Nomeklatura already so the hope of NEW BLOOD is more important for NEW YORK CITY than EXPERIENCE.

    As the Newspaper of Record, the New York Times can remind us of the
    INSTITUTIONAL KNOWLEDGE that we citizens may need to know rather than old City Council officials.

  18. Henry,

    Thank you for your incisive piece on the latest efforts of The City Council to scuttle term limits.

    It is a sad commentary that in a City diverse as ours is today we can still witness discrimination, racism and xenophobia. However, it can surely be said of The Council and its members, like most legislative bodies, that when it comes to the matter of their incumbency, this most diverse group of New Yorkers is without shame or prejudice.

    As to the abrupt conclusion of the Board of Alderman due to a fire in a Saloon, my memory harkens back to an equally abrupt start of a meeting of the City Council Finance Committee which had been delayed due to the lack of a quorum needed to move the leadership’s agenda and bills out of committee on the day of a Stated Meeting.

    Faced with this dilemma, the Majority Leader’s office had reached out to one the Council’s few Republican members to make quorum. As the summoned Council Member, Joe Ribustello of the Bronx, entered the Committee Room to take his seat so a vote could be held, he was greeted with a boisterous inquiry from the late Matty Troy, the Finance Chair, as to why he took so long to get there.

    Councilmember Rubistello tactfully replied that he could not be there earlier because he had a ‘closing’ to do.. The indomitable Mr.Troy, a lawyer who had done many a closing, snapped back by asking why Mr. Ribustello could not put the closing off till another time.

    However, upon seeing the startled look on the now speechless Mr. Ribustello’s face and a quick whisper into his ear by a member of the Council staff, Matty apparently was able to recall that closings conducted by Mr.Ribustelo, a licensed Funeral Director, could not be put off. Council Member Ribustello then took his seat without any further discussion of the reason for his tardiness.

  19. Hi Henry:

    Here's another negative on the term limits article.

    Term limits do not guarantee superior public servants. They do, I believe, discourage people who could be top notch from running in the first place. What conscientious, hard-working individual wants to take a job that he/she knows they will be bounced out of in eight years. What if they've done a superb job, we have to get rid of the culprit. What, if so often is the case, they have begun working on an important issue that takes time to research, write complex legislation, convince the public as well as fellow legislators, and then before they can get it passed they are goners? What new public servant will be able to pick up the ball and run with it competently?

    Yes, you get incompetents returning to office election after election, but you also prevent the competent from even running for office to begin with. That can make for 100 percent incompetent office holders running the biggest city, the capital, of the world.

    Would you have term-limited Bobby Wagner, a superb public servant - I think you would agree.

  20. To say I was disappointed in your piece in today's NY Sun is an understatement. I am not talking about the substance of your arguments about term limits, that is a public discussion that should be had sooner, rather than later and earnest people can disagree. What I do find exceedingly offensive is your characterization of the job of City Council as being part time and some sort of day at the beach. You would have your readers believe that all of us have our feet up on the desk - at our law office, of course - and our toughest choice is whether to have Kettle One or Gray Goose for our martinis. I am in my 7th year as Council Member, and during this time I have averaged 60-70 hour workweeks and have given my all to my community. All I have left to give is my blood and there are more than a few folks who would take it if they could. I am sure I am not alone in this approach to my job. Your dismissive, condescending broad-brush painting of all elected officials as lazy, overpaid and unmotivated is laughable. Call out the bad ones for what they are and NAME NAMES! Say Council Member so and so is a bum and Council Member so and so is dumb and ineffective. But don't use superficial, tired and inaccurate generalizations. I challenge you or any other critic of my performance to try to keep up with my staff and I for a week. You pick the week. Bring your running shoes and pack an energy bar or two. I dare say you would realize Council life, as I live it, is much different from his cushy days at the Parks Department and you would leave muttering to yourself and to your dog, "Spot, we are not in The Arsenal anymore."

    As far as you characterization of Fiala's Hamlet on the Hudson act, he was put on that committee months before by Peter Vallone to ensure a no vote. That "I'm torn" bit was a fine piece of theatrics but it was about as genuine as a three dollar bill.

  21. This is in response to O's screed denouncing the rhetoric of my admittedly jaded view of the City Council. I am grateful that he
    agrees that the topic I raised is a legitimate one for discussion that should be held sooner rather than later. As to the rhetoric, he is the pot calling the kettle black. In his last sentence, he has me muttering to myself and my dog, "Spot, we are not in The Arsenal anymore." First, my dog of
    blessed memory was named Boomer, Spot is the dog that belongs to Dick and Jane.

    Second, the observation to my dog that ..."we are not in the Arsenal anymore" is, I believe, a misremembered reference to the profound observation which Dorothy also addressed to her dog, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."