Last week, the Charter Revision Commission finally hammered out the language for the city’s term limits law, which stated that all elected officials first voted into office in 2009 would be able to run for a third term, but that those elected afterward would be limited to two terms.
But with the Commission slated to take a final vote on Monday, several local politicos and commissioners say they are worried that a late push by those who favor making the two-term limit apply retroactively to those elected in 2009 could throw the city’s electoral process into chaos.
That list includes not just the dozen new council members sworn into office this year, but Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, and Bronx borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. All of them were elected when the city’s law books said that a three-term limit would apply.
Lately Mayor Michael Bloomberg has indicated that he would prefer to see the two-term limit law go into effect now, creating in effect a two-tier system in the City Council, since all of those who were elected in 2009 would be given two terms, while those elected in 2005 would be given three.
This has led to an uproar among some politicos, especially among council members elected in 2009, who would never get the chance to be in the leadership of the council, since they would be termed out in 2017, as would the class of 2005. “We were the only ones that were first elected under a law that stated that term limits should be at three terms,” said one freshman council member. “One has to wonder if there is some sort of quid pro quo deal here.”
Some have suggested that the mayor is pushing for a law that gives the class of ’05 an extra term but not one for the class of ’09, as a way of rewarding sitting council members who voted in favor of a term limit extension in 2008, which paved the way for the mayor’s re-election the following year.
Those who back granting third terms for all sitting councilmembers have also wondered if the mayor’s aides have been pressuring the commission to reconsider the three-term limit, and they note that, previously, Bloomberg has not been adverse to twisting arms and writing checks to get his way on term limits.
A mayoral spokesman did not return a call requesting comment, but no commission members who were contacted for this article reported feeling pressure by the mayor or his staff.
Making matters more complicated, several commissioners will be out of town for the Charter Review Commission’s final vote next week. Some said that they expected the vote Monday to be merely a pro-forma vote to adopt the language agreed upon last week, but those who back the retroactive two-term limit—that is, on the class of ’09—say the matter can still be brought up for a vote.
“I think it’s a real possibility. I am hopeful,” said commissioner Tony Perez Cassino. “This is too important not to get right.”
The term limit vote was close at the commission, and Cassino said, confusing.
“I think a lot of us were unsettled by how it went anyway.”
Cassino added that if the issue came up for a vote again, that his side, which would throw out of office two-thirds of the City Council and two citywide elected officials in 2017, would prevail.
But others said that even if Cassino’s side had the votes, it would be unseemly to bring the matter up again since a handful of commissioners will not be present. “My assumption is that we are going to adopt the final report,” said Stephen J. Fiala. “The final vote is pro-forma in nature. It would be a departure from the normal process.”
A member of the commision who backs changing term limits to go into effect for the class of 2009 called in with the following points:
- Making the two-term limit in effect in for the class of 2009 means that it goes into effect as soon as practicable. Making it go into effect in for the class of 2005 would be disruptive. Voters expect term limits to go into effect soon.
- The voting was confusing and there was insufficient discussion on the term limit question. There is far more support among the Commission for making the law go into effect in 2017 than in 2021.
- The notion that any member of the class of the 2009 is being treated unfairly is ludicrous. They are in first months of their first term. Everyone knew that term limits would be up for revision this year.
- Mayor Bloomberg has not pressured anyone.