The controversial term limit extension bill passed in the City Council last week split Queens delegates as they wrestled with the impact on city politics and their own careers.
Six of the Queens City Council members voted with Council Speaker Christine Quinn to pass the bill, which allows Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Council to run for a third term. Eight voted against the bill.
Many Council members objected to the bill because it did not put the decision to the voters in a referendum. Councilman John Liu (D−Flushing) said voters in 1993 established term limits “out of a deep cynicism for politics and government and elected officials all across America. ... We need to put it back to the people. Otherwise, that very same cynicism will be rehashed over again.”
He called the outcome of the 29−22 vote “preconceived, pre−orchestrated and preordained” and urged the Council to “resolve as a body to be an effective counterbalance to the administration” by pushing to put the term limits referendum on the 2009 ballot.
Councilman Leroy Comrie (D−St. Albans) voted in favor of the bill because he believed term limits negatively affect his southeast Queens constituents.
“We have to take risks,” he said. “We have to make tough decisions. ... We should not be afraid to take our record to the people.”
But Comrie would not say Monday whether he would seek a third term in office.
Councilwoman Helen Sears (D−Jackson Heights), who voted with Quinn, refuted the claims of some of her colleagues that the Council would weaken itself by supporting the bill.
“In the last seven years, the mayor has had his vetoes overridden almost two dozen times,” she said. “That says a lot for the balance of power. It says a lot for independence. It says a lot for conscience.”
But Councilman Tony Avella (D−Bayside), who opposed the bill and plans to continue his run for mayor in 2009, said it was an “absolute disgrace” to legislatively change term limits.
“They waited until now, so it was too late to do a referendum,” he said of Bloomberg. “You’re not conning anybody. You should all be voted out of office for voting for this.”
Councilman Eric Gioia (D−Sunnyside), who opposed Bloomberg’s bill, said the vote would “disenfranchise more and more New Yorkers, who rightfully will suspect that the game is rigged.”
Bloomberg’s measure passed 29−22 after a failed attempt to amend the bill to require a voter referendum before the election. The vote will be challenged in court.
City Councilman Bill Di Blasio (D−Brooklyn), one of the most vocal critics of Bloomberg’s efforts, said he was consulting with his lawyer to determine how to proceed.
Additionally, a group of 10 teachers has filed suit against the mayor and Council in Brooklyn federal court, alleging that changing term limits without a public referendum violates voters’ civil rights.
People packed the balcony at City Hall last Thursday, holding up signs mostly opposing the bill. The press section was similarly crowded.
As the vote ended and the outcome was announced, spectators began to shout “Quinn’s a sellout” and “the city’s for sale.”
The bill’s supporters emphasized that extending term limits does not automatically give Bloomberg a third term in office.
“Voters should have the choice to continue their current leadership,” Quinn said in her opening remarks to the Council. “That is exactly what is at stake.”
She called allegations that the bill, which would establish a commission to decide whether to put a referendum on the term limit extension on the 2010 ballot, was a backroom deal “quite frankly ludicrous.”
Bloomberg has said he would appoint to that commission billionaire term limits opponent Ron Lauder, who spearheaded the 1993 referendum. Many believe this was part of a deal to earn Lauder’s support.
Di Blasio was highly critical.
“George Orwell, in particular, would have loved the arguments that the speaker and the mayor have made,” he said, comparing the rhetoric about giving voters more choice to language in Orwell’s classic dystopian novel “1984.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.
©2008 Community News Group
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