On the weekend before the commencement of public hearings on a legislative proposal to extend term limits, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn held a brief press conference to announce what everyone around City Hall already suspected—that she favors Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to allow elected officials to serve three terms in office, up from the two currently allowed.
Quinn painted her decision as a demonstration of leadership in a divided City Council, and also as a bold stand during a financial crisis that, ultimately, will give voters more choices in next year’s election.
“As we move forward in these very difficult times, continuity in leadership will allow our city to continue to work,” Quinn said this afternoon at a press conference in City Hall’s Red Room. “To extend term limits legislatively gives New Yorkers a choice at the polls next year.”
Quinn, who has governed as an ally of the mayor, became the first (and still the only) one of the three leading 2009 mayoral contenders to announce that she wouldn’t run if Bloomberg did, and her decision not to oppose Bloomberg’s plan to extend term limits is part of the same deferential pattern.
She was reading from prepared remarks in front of a crowded room full of reporters, many of whom had gathered in that same room last week when it was expected she would announce her support of the bill. At that time, Quinn declined to take a position, saying that she was still getting feedback from colleagues.
At today’s event, Quinn said her decision was made in the last few days after speaking with other members of the Council, leaders in the business and labor communities and good-government organizations.
Her timing, she said, was necessary because of the extraordinarily sensitive nature of the topic. As speaker, Quinn said she had an obligation “to try to find consensus if you can. That can’t always happen.” She also said she had to “demonstrate leadership on issues that are truly controversial where you can’t find consensus. I think I have an obligation to make my position clear.”
There was no time to hold a special election on the issue, Quinn said, but insisted, “There will be the ultimate election on this come a year from now,” referring to the 2009 election when she and 35 of her colleagues, along with the mayor, will seek reelection.
Last week, Quinn had defended the Council’s ability to act as a check on the popular billionaire mayor’s power, saying it was evidenced in concessions and amendments to legislation that passed her body and got his signature.
Today, Quinn, who had taken a hard-line position against changing term limits last December—back when the mayor seemed more intent on generating talk about a possible run for president than for a third term as mayor—told reporters, “There have been no concessions, no quid pro quo, no promises or anything of that nature from the mayor’s office, and my office, on this matter. This is a change in my position, and that is not something I do lightly. It’s not something I typically like to do.”
Today’s press conference was under 15 minutes long, and one man in the audience clapped when Quinn spoke approvingly of Bloomberg and extending term limits. But after fielding a question from a Rock Hackshaw, a blogger at the blog Room 8, Quinn’s aides yelled out that the press conference was ending.
As Quinn was leaving the crowded room, a man in a suit and tie approached her, and said, “I’m one of the opinionated New Yorkers that you spoke about.” Quinn paused to speak with him briefly, and cameras clicked away. Then the man was joined by others in the audience who were holding signs and declaring themselves members of the group “Billionaires for
Term Limits Bloomberg.” By the time they pulled out cigars and sunglasses, and began mocking the way in which Bloomberg actively courted term-limits activist and fellow billionaire Ron Lauder, Quinn had left the room.