Last week, Barack Obama teased Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the Al Smith Dinner by noting that, as Bloomberg tried to alter term limits so he could run again, Bill Clinton replied, "You can do that?" Joke's over. In a run around democracy that not even Chavez or Putin attempted, Bloomberg muscled the City Council to go along. Is Schwarzenegger next?
Twice, New York City voters, in 1993 and 1996 -- voted to limit the terms in office of all Council members and the mayor to two four year terms. That forced Rudy Giuliani out in 2001 and enabled Mike Bloomberg to run and win (against me). Then after seven years of supporting these two referenda, Mike Bloomberg last month did a 180 and said that the financial crisis required him to be able to run again to save the City. And although 89% of New Yorkers in a poll this week said that the only fair way to alter term limits was by another voter referendum, not a City Council law, Bloomberg got the Council to support his law by a vote of 29-22.
First, it's just wrong that Mike Bloomberg says it was too late to put a voter referendum on the ballot this November when it was the Mayor himself who stalled for nine months putting it on this November ballot in the hope he could wire the Council for a fast, favorable vote. As we say in the law, he now has "unclean hands" to exploit his own inaction.
Second, it's just wrong that the deciders of this momentous issue are 51 Council members thinking about their self-interest -- their jobs, paychecks, perks -- rather than voters weighing the public interest. When the annual pension of pensioneers is determined, those deciding aren't all pensioneers.
Third, it's just wrong that the Mayor and Council are trying to railroad this through in three weeks in order to avoid a public backlash...when it takes three years to enact horse carriage legislation. Is horse carriage legislation more important than the way we choose our government?
Fourth, it's ridiculous to cite as a reason that only Bloomberg can get us through the current national financial crisis, since he was manuvering last Spring to change term limits before this crisis hit in early September and since the mayor has zero national or local jurisdiction over this credit crunch. The crisis is an alibi, an afterthought, not an argument.
And it's really wrong for the Council Speaker and Mayor to bully various decision-makers, like the way members were threatened with the loss of committee chairmanships if they voted "wrong,", the way Council chairs were told they'd lose their positions if they voted their conscience, the way the original pro-limits advocate Ron Lauder was promised a seat on a 2010 Charter Commission in exchange for his support, the way the Mayor's City Hall staff actually called groups receiving his charitable gifts -- at a quarter of a billion dollars annually -- to coerce them to testify for their benefactor, and the way the Mayor's office explicitly threatened to bury any Democratic nominee 2009 with $80 million in negative ads in 2009. That's not very nice.
Can you imagine if Ike or Clinton had tried to alter federal term limits to stay in office in 1960 or 2000?
That's why all major good governent groups in NYC opposed this undemocratic, self-dealing power grab as "disgraceful." Which is the strong word Mike Bloomberg himself used to describe this ploy when he opposed it earlier this year, before he flip-floppd.
This doesn't pass the laugh or smell test. But the Mayor should be careful what he wishes for. When ambition called, he opted to be more monarch than mayor and in so doing sabotaged his reputation of being a straight-talking, selfless, non-partisan mayor.
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