Just when you thought that the world was coming back to order again, there is this. The New York City council voted to extend term limits from two to three. Forget that New York City voters voted on this very issue, not once, but twice . . . flatly, expressly, and unequivocally rejecting proposals to extend term limits from two to three. Forget that the main man behind this, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is an uber-billionaire who clearly held sway with the Council — all of whom, of course, now can run for another term.
Bloomberg’s justification for extending his term limit from two to three had to do solely with the financial crisis. Of course, let’s forget that Giuliani asked for the same thing after September 11, 2001, via a three month extension, but that was resolutely rejected. If anything, it shows Giuliani wasn’t the brilliant politician as Bloomberg and his team of hacks are.
Christine C. Quinn, the Speaker and Bloomberg’s lap dog, commented about the extension of term limits in the most Orwellian of ways. She said, “They should have the right to vote for the current mayor, or a new one, for their current City Council member, or a new one. That is exactly what is at stake today.”
Huh? That seems to be putting the cart before the horse. Yeah, sure, with an extension of term limits, voters can now choose to vote for Bloomberg, Person A, or Person B. But that is not what’s at stake here, Ms. Quinn.
First, what is at stake here is how an already inept council can destroy the will of the people. Twice, and I will repeat this, twice, have the voters explicitly rejected by way of referendum any extension of term limits. But no, apparently that doesn’t matter. Nonetheless, the council, with the support of Bloomberg and two other billionaires, was able to get this horrific bill on the floor for a vote. . . a vote that everyone knew what the results would be, despite all the speeches by the politicians.
To be sure, as Ms. Quinn and others have pointed out, the people could vote out Bloomberg in the next election, as well as other people on the council who are enjoying the fruits of a third term that the people of the City of New York had previously took from them. But that completely misses the point. The point here is an abuse of the democratic process. Plain and simple. Just because an inept city council decided to conduct a vote doesn’t somehow bypass the abuse of the process. There’s no “cancel out” here.
It is also an abuse of something else that is not talked about as much: the power of incumbency. Incumbents, by the very fact of their office, have extraordinary power to get reelected. Part of their job, by its very nature, includes running for reelection. Need stats to back that up? Just look to Congress. For the House of Representatives, incumbents are winning more than 80 percent of the time. For the Senate, incumbents are winning more than 75 percent of the time. I mean, let’s look at Senator Chuck Schumer. How many times do you see him on tv? Sure, he’s “reporting” to the public about what’s going on but he’s also telling people, “Hey, I’m your Senator and vote for me.” It’s free ad time.
Term limits recognize how the power of incumbency destroys democracy, i.e., the ability of challengers to lodge a solid and credible campaign. That’s why it’s not surprising that the voters — twice — rejected an extension of term limts. Here, Bloomberg’s third term has essentially wiped out the chances of numerous candidates to run for election, not to mention the other “seats” in the other districts. So, while the voters will have a choice this upcoming election, one must ask what kind of choice is it really.
And, what is particularly bothering is the apparent “emergency” that Bloomberg and by extension, the other assembly persons who are benefitting from this extra term, are using to support their term limit extension. Yes, Bloomberg is a popular Mayor. And yes, the financial crisis is, in fact, a crisis. But to believe that it is such a crisis that Bloomberg and the council have the right to violate the will of the people is just ridiculous and simply overstates Bloomberg’s ability over anyone and everyone to get the job done. Years from now, what will be the next justification? There will always be something. And, frankly, Bloomberg is no FDR.
What happened today was an affront to democracy. Shame on the council. Vote them all out.