Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Monday Morning Workout

Mayor to Hold Hearing on Council Legislation Overturning Referenda

By Henry J. Stern
October 30, 2008

The next episode in the term limits drama will take place Monday morning when Mayor Bloomberg holds the legally required public hearing on the Charter amendment extending term limits, which was passed by the City Council on October 23.

The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. The site is the Blue Room of City Hall, where proceedings of this nature usually take place. All those who appear and ask to speak have traditionally been given the opportunity to do so. Notice of the hearing was first published in Wednesday’s City Record. After the hearing ends, the mayor is expected to sign the bill.

Just as a civics lesson, we advise you that if the mayor vetoes a bill, it is returned to the City, where an over-ride, which requires a two-thirds vote (34 councilmembers), may be attempted. Or there may be negotiations between the mayor and the council to reach agreement on an amended bill. If the mayor neither signs nor vetoes a bill, it becomes law without his signature on the 31st day after the Council acts.

If he signs the bill, it is sent to the City Clerk and becomes law on its effective date. Mayor Bloomberg is expected to sign this bill, probably on the spot, because the bill was introduced at his request, and his prompt action would be part of the reporting on the hearing, rather than leaving the story to the protesters who are likely to attend.

It will be interesting to see who among the 29 councilmembers who voted for the bill last week show up Monday morning `for the public hearing. Normally the proud sponsors and principal supporters of a bill appear, sit at the table with the mayor, share plaudits for the passage of the bill, and receive ball pens with the mayor’s signature, some of which he actually used to sign the bill.

Yesterday a press conference was held at City Hall by those who believe it is unconstitutional for the city council to over-ride a referendum on a matter dealing with the election of the councilmembers themselves, and that it is a conflict of interest for the councilmembers to extend their own eligibility for election.

The story was reported by Michael Frazier on p A42 of today’s Newsday under the headline TERM LIMITS FIGHT NOT OVER – Opponents Call on Mayors Not to Sign Bill and Threaten to File Another Lawsuit if Bloomberg Inks Deal. A large photograph shows attorney Randy Mastro, a former Deputy Mayor; Comptroller Bill Thompson, Councilmen Bill deBlasio and Charles Barron and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum. Congressman Anthony D. Weiner was present and also spoke at the rally, along with representatives of good government groups.

There was one other column today on the term limits issue by: Errol Louis on p31 of the Daily News, A LIMIT TO VOTERS’ PATIENCE.

Mr. Louis’ lede: The wrongness of the term-limits power grab by Mayor Bloomberg and his bought-off City Council majority was made clear by the dissembling, bribery, cowardice and coercion that went on at City Hall during the farcical hearings and rushed vote to overturn what voters twice approved by referendum. Details of the shady dealing are already coming to light."

The Council action also came under attack by Tom Robbins in this week’s Village Voice. The headline on top on page one, HEROES, VILLAINS, AND WIMPS: ROBBINS ON THE BLOOMBERG COUP called attention to the story which ran on pgs 12 and 13. His lede: So much for New York City sophisticates. Last week's rush by 29 self-inflated council members to gut term-limits laws—approved by voters in two separate referendums—was the kind of thing that's supposed to happen only in countries south of the border, or those with "-stan" at the end of their names." Robbins continues with details of the pressure he says were applied to some members.

For others, however, it was not necessary to apply pressure, since they were voting for more time, money and power for themselves. That is not usually a hard sell, but in this case it was made more difficult since the Quinniapic poll showed that 89% of the public opposed the over-ride of the referenda, and only 7% supported it. What's the point of trampling the law if you lose your primary election over the issue?

We try to give both sides of public issues, so we link here to the three editorials in the daily press supporting term extension. If you take the time to read the text of the editorials, you will find some meritorious arguments in favor of the Council action..

The Times, Oct. 22, TERM LIMITS AND THE COUNCIL. The lede: "The City Council is expected to vote on Thursday on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to revise New York City’s term-limits law. The proposal would allow the mayor and most of the city’s elected officials to run for a third four-year term. We urge the Council to approve it."

Daily News, Oct. 23, EMPOWER THE VOTERS. The lede: "The man or woman who is elected mayor in 2009 will be called on to make tough decisions that will affect the lives and pocketbooks of New Yorkers in ways they haven't seen in years. The city is on the verge of plunging off a financial cliff because Wall Street tax revenues are virtually kaput. The books are already several billion dollars in the red."

The Post, A FATEFUL COUNCIL VOTE, Oct. 23, The lede: "The City Council today is expected to take up legislation permitting Mayor Bloomberg and other city officials to seek a third term in office. There are two ways to look at term limits: As a one-size-fits-all exercise in theory-driven political purity: Too many pols hang around for too long, because the people don't know what's good for them and continue to re-elect them. Or, as an artificial, potentially destructive impediment to keeping truly extraordinary public servants in office, especially in times of crisis."

The extension is also supported by the city’s business and real estate elite, and a number of charitable organizations. Nonetheless, the strength and diversity of the opposition came as a surprise to those who believed that the bill would have smooth sailing in the City Council, since it gave most of its members an unexpected chance to win another term in office.

People who are not that interested in city government are nonetheless displeased when they believe that their democratic rights are being taken away by incumbents who would trample the City Charter in the interest of their own self-preservation.

Although Mayor Bloomberg has unquestioned skills and resources, and relationships with world and national leaders, it would require a long stretch of the imagination to believe that the current 5l councilmembers have much to contribute in financial acumen or influence. They are simply the baggage the mayor must carry to get the extension proposal through the City Council. As in ancient times, if you want to cross the river, you have to pay the ferryman.

We think it would have been wiser to go through the conventional route of amending the City Charter, rather than leave it up to a compliant, self-interested Council which fears a return to private life in just fourteen months. People generally opposes unilateral change to the Charter by any assembly of politicians, especially when it is obviously being done in the personal interest (camouflaged as civic sacrifice) of the usurpers. Even if the extenders prevail, they will face a constant challenge to the legitimacy of the regime, as well as doubt as to the credibility of their representations, fueled by their very recent public expressions of disapproval of any change in term limits.

Ironically, the man with the strongest case on the merits for term extension takes no salary from the city. And he has always fared quite well with the voters. He need not, however, carry half a hundred sluggards with him through 2013. There would be considerable merit in separating the wheat from the chaff, and leaving it to the voters' wisdom to distinguish between the two.

Why not follow the Charter and let the electorate decide the candidates’ eligibility to run? Maybe, the pols think, because the people had two chances to vote (1993 and 1996) and got it wrong both times. Now the insiders have to step in to straighten things out before those looming Term Limits are actually enforced. If the limits stick, the pols will actually have to leave their cocoons and go out into the world to seek honest work.

Would that hurt the city? What do you think?

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