Bloomberg’s Wait-and-Hurry-Up Approach to Charter Revision

So, what happened with the city’s Charter Revision Commission between January 17, when the mayor announced he would create one, and October 5, the day Howard Rubenstein announced that the mayor intended to make Ron Lauder the commission’s first member?

It’s unclear.

Bloomberg, through spokesman Stu Loeser, declined to answer. Another spokesman, Jason Post, said he’d look into it.

It’s an important question because it explains the mayor’s stated reason for supporting a legislative change to the law instead of a public referendum, which is essentially that it’s all about speed.

“You just can’t get it on the ballot,” because there is no time, Bloomberg said at his October 2 press conference. So, the only option now is to have the City Council vote for it. If it were on the ballot next year, it would be confusing to voters who are also faced with a mayoral election, said Post, the Bloomberg spokesman.

The change also has a better chance of passing if it’s voted on by the 51-member City Council, rather than the public.

The official rationale at this point is that the whole idea of making an exception to term limits is a result of the financial meltdown. But some good-government activists think this scramble could have been avoided, and wonder what Bloomberg has been doing about the Charter Revision Commission for ten months.

Citizen Union Executive Director Dick Dadey said, “Had the mayor appointed a charter revision commission earlier this year as he said he would do in his State of the City Address, this issue could have been discussed and put before the voters this November to decide," he said.

Gene Russianoff, the lead lawyer at the New York Public Research Interest Group, said he urged City Hall – and Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey specifically – to create the commission, to no avail.

“Although Bloomberg said he would give them 18 months, the CRC just kept getting pushed to the bottom,” Russianoff wrote in an email to the Observer. “It’s always been a low priority. I met with Sheekey in February and personally urged moving ahead with speed. He said they would. I’d ask about the status of it every month and be told ‘soon.’ If he had set up a CRC in January, there could have been an orderly process of research, debate and proposal this November.”

Eric Lane, aHofstra Law professor who is considered “an authority” on charter revision commissions, said it was unclear why Bloomberg even announced he‘d make one.

“I don’t know why he said he wanted one. I asked a lot of people and no one seemed to know why.” Lane added, “He could have named one any time he wanted to.”

Bill Cunningham, Bloomberg’s former director of communications, said a charter revision commission impaneled earlier may not necessarily have resulted in putting a referendum on the ballot about term limits, since they’re required to look at the city’s entire charter, not just a part of it.