ON his terms
New York Mayor Bloomberg's attempts to let city council change term limits an insult to voters.
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Oct. 8, 2008, 10:29PM
New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wants to run for a third four-year term in November 2009, in spite of the fact that under the city's term limits law — which he had previously strongly defended — he is limited to two terms. He told reporters that handling the financial crisis facing the country and the city, while strengthening essential services, is "a challenge I want to take on for the people of New York."
But rather than going back to the voters who opted for term limits in the first place — and who have regularly endorsed them ever since — the city council is likely to decide the issue.
Term-limit laws can be problematic and can frustrate long-term projects and consistency of vision, and voters have every right to repeal or amend them if they so desire. But this situation has nothing to do with the merits or deficits of such laws. Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman who founded financial information company Bloomberg LP, may well have the city's best interests at heart, but by sidestepping the voters his actions appear self-serving and undemocratic.
First elected two months after 9/11, Bloomberg enjoys about a 70 percent approval rating. He has said voters should have the final say but that it is too late for a referendum this year. But it's not too late for other measures, as critics have pointed out, including a special election solely on this issue, which could be held early next year.
On Tuesday, two competing bills were introduced at the city council meeting. One of them was Bloomberg's proposal to modify the law and add an option for a third term. The other, an opposing bill, would require voter approval for any change to the law. Hearings are set for next week. Bloomberg, who was out of the country, told the Associated Press he had no role in the council battle and that his only involvement has been to "read the papers."
Term limits are raising hackles in Texas, too, where they have been widely embraced since the early 1990s. San Antonio, with the most restrictive limits in the nation, has a measure on the Nov. 4 ballot to extend the current two two-year terms to four two-year terms. Mayor Phil Hardberger, whose term is about to expire, argues that extending the terms would make city officials more accountable, giving them time to keep their campaign promises. Last year in Houston, which has limits of three two-year terms, several ousted council members expressed similar frustrations.
University of Houston political scientist Dr. Richard Murray told the Chronicle that especially for council members, term limits are a bad idea in that they restrict the public's choice and give the wrong incentive to council members.
"As soon as they get elected they start looking around for their next move," he said. "It's a difficult, complex job, and it takes commitment. It's like making friends on death row."
As New York's city council ponders its mayor's and its city's future, it should be noted that two-thirds of the ponderers — 34 of the 51 total — will also be forced out next year under the existing law. Bloomberg's ambition to guide the city through another term puts them in an awkward situation: They too will stand to benefit, along with the mayor, from taking this momentous decision out of voters' hands.
It's a bad deal all around.