Tuesday, December 09, 2008

23 Beneficiaries Of 8 Year Limits Nullify the Charter That Enabled Them To Be Elected in 2001



Bronx: (5) Maria Baez, Helen D. Foster, Oliver Koppell, Joel Rivera,
Larry Seabrook

Brooklyn: (9) Erik Martin Dilan, Simcha Felder, Lewis A. Fidler, Michael Nelson, Dominic Recchia, Diana Reyna, Kendall Stewart, Albert Vann, David Yassky.

Manhattan (4): Alan J. Gerson, Robert Jackson, Miguel Martinez, Christine C. Quinn.

Queens: (5) Leroy G. Comrie, Jr., Melinda Katz, James Sanders, Helen Sears, Peter F. Vallone, Jr. (Q).

Staten Island (0): None

Six members, not elected in 2001, also voted Aye. They are:

Maria del Carmen Arroyo (Bx), Inez E. Dickens (M), Sara Gonzales (Bk),
Darlene Mealy (Bk), James Vacca (Bx), Thomas White, Jr.(Q)


By Henry J. Stern
October 28, 2008

Five days have passed since the City Council, acting in the self-interest of its members, voted to overrule two public referenda and declare themselves eligible for a third term. Ironically, this is the very class of members who were first elected in 2001, because their predecessors were forced out by term limits. When their time to go (2009) approached, the beneficiaries of the referenda simply overturned the law that allowed their election in the first place.

This would not have happened without overwhelming pressure from Mayor Bloomberg, who himself was elected in 2001 because Mayor Giuliani was ineligible to run for a third term. In the aftermath of 9/11, the likelihood is that Giuliani would easily have defeated Mark Green, the Democratic candidate for mayor. In fact, it is unlikely that Michael Bloomberg would have run at all against an incumbent Republican mayor eligible for re-election. So the first mayor to benefit from the two-term limit turns out to be the person who has led the drive to repeal it, now that his second term is drawing to a close.

The term extension scheme was abetted by the three publishers of daily newspapers, whom the mayor had courted in advance, along with the business elite. The columnists and the reporters on the dailies were almost unanimously opposed to unilateral term extension, treating the suspension of democracy with suspicion tinged with cynicism.

The three dailies offered ritual endorsements on the day the Council met, as if on cue. The editorial endorsements were not memorable. They read as if they had been written by hostages, which to some extent they were, wage slaves of the owners. Newspaper endorsements are valuable, however, in City Council races, and it is likely that the threat of endorsement of a rival in a primary helped push queasy members into the arms of the authorities, whose resources might assist them in the event that such distractions as primaries arise next year.

The struggle will go on in the courts and before the Justice Department. It is crystalline in our judgment that Section 38 of the City Charter was intended to prevent political efforts to change the Charter to benefit one group or another. Similar electoral maneuvers are specifically forbidden in that section. Term limits were imposed in a 1993 referendum and confirmed in a second referendum in 1996, which were held on the precise issue of extending the two term limit to three terms.

There is no serious question of intent here, the 1989 charter includes provisions to exclude the Council from any manipulation of the electoral process. It did not refer to term limits because there were none at the time, just as the Constitution of the United States does not refer to airplanes, time travel or other instrumentalities that had not been invented or discovered in 1787.

The issue will now goes to the judiciary. The Council, acting under directions transmitted by Speaker Christine Quinn, completed its work in less than a month. We are enormously interested in how the courts will handle the case, and what the role will be of the public interest groups like Citizens Union, Common Cause and NYPIRG (New York Public Interest Research Group), who opposed the legislation. No one can predict what the Court of Appeals will do if or when the case comes before it.

The argument for the bill, expressed by Ms. Quinn at her press conference, was that the city’s perilous financial condition required "continuing steadfast leadership", which presumably no one but the incumbents could supply. She said that the current harmony between the Mayor and Council was valuable for the city and should be retained.

If the citizenry valued the incumbents' services as highly as the Speaker does, and indeed they may, the people have had the option of extending term limits in the winter or spring of 2009, in ample time for the fall elections. A vote against the Council assuming this role was not intended to preclude the voters doing it themselves.

It was the gnawing fear, perhaps nurtured by private polls, that the voters of the City of New York might possibly vote not to extend term limits that prompted the incumbent mayor and councilmembers to take it on themselves to amend the Charter and consequently to deny the people of the city the opportunity to modify or to reaffirm their previous decision.

Which should carry more weight in a democracy, the votes of a million people or the votes of 29 councilmembers trying to save their jobs by repealing the law under which they were elected? When the public has spoken twice, or even once, should the 29 be able to discard the wishes of the million? What do you think?

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