Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bloomberg, New York City Council Ignore Majority of New Yorkers' Opinions, Decides They Deserve More Time In Office

After a weeks-long PR battle, the New York City Council today voted 29-22 to extend term limits for mayor and for council members to 3 terms (they had been limited to 2 terms). Mike Bloomberg began pushing for this several weeks ago, citing the "major financial crisis" the city was facing, and Council President Christine Quinn was quickly on board with the plan. Not coincidentally, both would have had to vacate their positions next year when elections rolled around. Instead, Bloomberg, Quinn, and about 2/3 of the City Council will be able to run for re-election for a 3rd term next year.

Although I'm relatively new to the city, this smells pretty bad to me. Voters already had a chance to turn down the 2-term limit twice (in 1993 and 1996), but both times, New Yorkers voted to keep the term limits in place. Yet Bloomberg and Quinn used a loophole to place the vote directly before the council today, without consulting voters, and the council rejected a measure earlier in the day to send the issue to voters in a referendum. I realize that it's been 12 years since the last time such a referendum was voted upon, and perhaps this time the citizens of New York would have turned over term limits. Still, the fact that the Council and the Mayor took it upon themselves to shut off that channel is disturbing, to put it mildly.

Also disturbing is the possible conflict-of-interests at hand. When you have 2/3 of a governing body that would have to vacate their positions at the end of the next year, leaving the vote up to them and not the regular citizens to decide whether or not they should stay in power seems a bit...problematic. Of course, Bloomberg, Quinn, and supporters of the 3-term-limit have been defending taking the issue out of voters' hands by saying that if the voters don't like it, then they can vote against Bloomberg and their council representatives next year. However, that seems disingenous to me, particularly given how much money Bloomberg has. As anybody with half a brain knows today, elections in largely-populated areas, be they cities, states, or countries, are determined in no small part by how much money the candidates have to spend, and there's no question that Bloomberg can and probably will outspend any opposition. That's not to say Bloomberg's (or other council members') opponents are guaranteed to lose, but they are facing a pretty big mountain to climb.

As for Bloomberg's argument that the financial crisis hitting the U.S. makes this an "exceptional" time, he's not necessarily wrong. Yet September 2001 was also an exceptional time, and even Giuliani "only" suspended elections for a few months. While that too was an appalling move, it was nowhere near as vulgar as the power-grab Bloomberg may be pulling now (though I'm certain Giuliani is sitting at home, kicking himself and saying "Why didn't I think of that???"). Bloomberg's gotten backing from (suprise suprise) Quinn and others, who insist that his business acumen makes it imperative the city have him at the helm of the ship while it tries to navigate this financial crisis. However, if Bloomberg is such a financial genius, one can't help but wonder why he didn't see this coming sooner and try to prevent it any way he could. I'm not saying he's necessarily the wrong man in the way, say, that McCain's just the wrong guy right now, but I'm sure as hell not convinced he's the right guy, either.

If there's any silver lining to this issue, it's that Bloomberg most likely will not make a run for governor of New York in 2010. There had been talk that he would try to replace David Patterson, the current Democratic governor of the city, running as a democrat. I like Patterson, and I like the job he's done overall (though I'm not thrilled about his refusal to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to address the state's deficit problems).

Still, this is a pretty ugly local example of the mechanisms of politics. I hope people will remember this next year in November, but I doubt it.