By Alex Nagler
The New York City Council voted on Thursday, October 22 to extend term limits for elected officials to three terms from two, clearing the path for Mayor Michael Bloomberg to run again. The vote was 29 in favor of extending, with 22 votes in opposition. Prior to this, the issue of whether or not to put the question of term limits on the ballot for citizens to decide was put up to vote. Here, the vote was 28 no, 22 yes, and one abstention.
This term limit extension is a blanket increase, adding a third four-year term to everyone from the mayor to the 51 members of the City Council. This also includes the two other positions in the executive branch of the city’s municipal government, the public Advocate and the comptroller. The Public Advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, has not expressed any intention to enter the race. Her duties presiding over the City Council gave her the task of delivering the final vote count, though she was later quoted as being “disappointed” and expressed her feelings that “the voice of New Yorkers has been silenced and millions of votes ignored.”
The comptroller is a different story. William Thompson Jr., comptroller, has stated his opposition to extending term limits for some time now, but a good deal of that has much to do with the fact that he is currently one of the leading contenders for mayor in 2009. In his statement, he condemned the action calling the vote, “An affront to New Yorkers.” He continued, “It says that their votes and their voice do not matter, that bullying and heavy-handed threats are more powerful than democratic ideals.”
Though not in the City Council, Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) stated that he is still running for mayor, commenting on the fact that Council Speaker Christine Quinn called off her campaign in response to the vote. Quinn, who represents Manhattan’s third district and voted in favor of extending term limits, would be unable to run for her seat and maintain the position of speaker in 2009 without an extension. The story is the same for 22 of the other “Yes” voters, who are now eligible to run for a third term thanks to their decision. Of those who voted “no,” only twelve of them would be ineligible to run for a third term. Whether or not each individual council member, regardless of how they voted, plan to run for their newly minted third term remains to be seen.
Much of the controversy surrounding the vote comes from a Quinnipiac University poll that showed that 89 percent of those surveyed favored a referendum on whether or not to allow the Mayor to run for a third term, with 51 percent of those who responded opposing said referendum, yet 75 percent approving of the job Bloomberg has done over the past eight years.
Regardless of how people feel about term limits, the average voter in New York City is the true loser here. Whether Bloomberg will be re-elected in 2009 remains to be seen, but what is obvious as of now is that the mayoral race has become more difficult for anyone who isn’t named Michael R. Bloomberg, who has $80 million of his own money set aside to spend campaigning. Councilman Charles Barron may have said it best: “Even though the mayor will win today, he is the big loser, because he lost democracy, he lost the favor of the people.”