At Term Limits Hearing, a Scornful Opening

Another dispatch from the term-limits hearing, by intern Glenna Goldis:

Mario Cuomo was the first person to testify at the hearing on the City Council’s term-limits legislation.

“The way they did it in my case was perfect,” he said, referring to the voters’ ouster of him in 1993 by general election.

He added later, “Anything that perpetuates term limits is not a good thing.”

Councilman Simcha Felder, who presided over the hearing in the Council chamber, opened the proceedings by allowing the sponsors of an anti-extension bill to speak in alphabetical order. Cuomo testified after those brief statements.

At one point, Councilman Charles Barron challenged Cuomo, arguing that term limits had created the most progressive council in memory and that Bloomberg “robbed the poor to give to the rich.” He got cheers from the rafters when he mentioned Bill Thompson’s mayoral candidacy. Felder, presiding over the hearing, tried to get the room in order, to which Barron said angrily, “It’s O.K. to laugh at your corny jokes.”

Counsel Anthony Crowell, representing the administration, testified next. He said that now “everything has changed” and “pragmatism is necessary” in a time of financial distress.

“There are no atheists in foxholes, and no ideologues in a financial crisis,” he said, adding, “Don’t hold this hostage to process.”

The first boring piece of testimony came from another member of the administration, corporation counsel Michael Cardozo. He cited precedent in opposing a change to term limits without a referendum. The group in the front rows kept their signs propped up on their laps.

Felder returned to Crowell to ask how this situation is different than when Rudy Giuliani unsuccessfully sought 90 more days as mayor after Sept. 11. Crowell said the difference was that by the time Giuliani started the process an election had already been held.

Councilman Robert Jackson asked the panel if Bloomberg cut a deal with fellow billionaire Ron Lauder. Cardozo said no, disdainfully. Two other members pushed the question.

Crowell said that Bloomberg supports term limits, but prefers a three-term limits to two. Scattered laughter ensued, as Vallone and Felder talked quietly.

As to why Bloomberg did not start the process earlier, Crowell suggested he was only inspired by the recent financial crisis. “No one saw this coming.” Scattered boos ensued. Council member Letitia James A heckler yelled “There are terrorists in Iraq!”

Cardozo said having a referendum in 2009 “would be confusing.” Councilman John Liu, one of the earliest and most vocal opponents of the mayor’s proposal, mocked Cardozo, and Felder quickly put a stop to the spat.

Cardozo repeatedly stressed that the issue must be decided now because a special election would cost money and possibly violate the Voting Rights Act.

At Term Limits Hearing, a Scornful Opening