Recently, all eight candidates for City Council speaker announced their support for efforts to change the current two-term limit to three in order to curry favor, and votes, from their colleagues. In fact, one of them, Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, has already drafted legislation to accomplish this goal.
The people of New York City have spoken loudly and clearly in support of a two-term limit on three separate occasions. A 1993 referendum passed by voters imposed this limit. A few years later, council members tried to extend the limit, but voters smacked them down in a 1996 vote.
Then in 2008, led by then-mayor Michael Bloomberg, the City Council said screw the referendum route, and extended term limits on their own through legislation so they and the mayor could serve third terms.
In response, voters struck back in 2010 when 75 percent of us imposed the two-term limit again by supporting a proposal placed on the ballot by the New York City Charter Revision Commission. However, if council members want to get beat for a fourth time, New Yorkers will gladly oblige.
The professional political class just don’t know how to take a hint. Our Founding Fathers believed in citizen legislators. They would never have imagined the culture of career politicians we have today.
This is part of the reason why the New York State Reform Party supports term limits for all elected officials. Being called to serve for a period of time in public office should be a privilege, not a career choice.
James Madison said the ideal representative would be one “called for the most part from pursuits of a private nature and continued in appointment for a short period of office.” Since 1993, New York City voters have agreed with Mr. Madison three times.
We also believe in the power of the people, not the politicians, which is why we support initiative and referendum. We support voters directly deciding on many policy issues, whether it be term limits, bike lanes, red light cameras, or education tax credits.
Relating to this new term limits effort, there is no doubt that if the City Council could legislatively extend term limits on their own, like they did in 2008, they would. However, the 2010 New York City Charter Commission placed another proposal on the ballot that would prohibit the City Council from altering term limits on themselves.
It was also approved. Therefore, to fulfill their goal of staying in office longer, they must now put the issue before the voters in a referendum.
Voters will not be fooled by the same, tired bogus arguments these City Council members are making to try and extend their terms again. They include needing more time to see projects through in their districts, learning the job to be more effective, and vesting in the pension system.
New Yorkers know a con job when we see one. Are we really supposed to believe that council members are so indispensable to our government that we need them to serve longer than the president of the United States?
When term limits were first being discussed in the 1990’s, then-City Council speaker Peter Vallone, Sr. said they would be “disastrous” and a New York Times editorial said they would cause “chaos in government.”
Lo and behold, in 2002 when term limits first took effect and two-thirds of the City Council, four borough presidents, the mayor, comptroller, and public advocate were all new, we survived.
If the City Council votes to put another referendum before us to extend their terms, the people will overwhelmingly reject it. In addition, those Council Members that vote to place this referendum on the ballot will be held accountable by their constituents when they run for re-election.
Perhaps their term limits extension referendum should be coupled with one to roll back the $36,000 raise the City Council members gave themselves last year? Let the people decide.
Curtis Sliwa is the chairman of the NYS Reform Party. Capano has been an adjunct instructor of Government for over 15 years with CUNY.