09/11/2013 09:31 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2013

The Advantages of a Lame Duck: Officials Should Do More in Their Last Terms

An elected official's final term could be a great time for getting things done. Without the worry of reelection and polls, the last term can be one of those rare opportunities when a politician can tone down the politicking, make good on campaign promises and even be idealistic for a change. All too often, though, this is just not the case as elected officials in their last terms -- a.k.a. "lame ducks" -- opt to ride on cruise control up until their last day.

Some politicians, however, are decidedly bucking this trend and making the most out of their final days, working on special causes that they feel particularly passionate about, like Mayor Bloomberg's fight against the strike down of soft drink limits and Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie's bill to legalize gay marriage in his state. Senator Max Baucus of Montana only has 16 months left in office, but he is continuing to push an aggressive plan to rewrite the nation's tax code. Carl Levin, the longest serving senator in Michigan's history, recently announced that he would not be running again, but that did not prevent him from leading a probe into JPMorgan's energy trading activities. Officials like these show that public service, and not power or politics, is their primary motivation for representing their constituencies.

In New York City, John Liu, the city comptroller, has used his time to implement NYC 311+, a civic mobile app that enables all New Yorkers with iPhones, iPads and Android devices to interact with the local government (powered by PublicStuff). Using their mobile devices or the website, NYC 311+ users can rate and review neighborhood institutions such as libraries, subways and playgrounds and provide suggestions for improvements. Users can also submit service requests on non-emergency issues such as street potholes, illegal parking, downed trees, noise complaints, graffiti and more. Moreover, as a testament to the city's racial and ethnic diversity, the app allows users to communicate and receive information in their native language. By making local governments accountable to their constituents in newly interactive ways, Liu has definitely left an impressive legacy and set a precedent for future officials.

To put it simply, many obstacles often get in the way of an elected official's plans to do more good for their communities during their incumbencies. During their final months in office, many may be tempted to rest on their laurels and coast to the finish line. Officials who know better use this time wisely. The challenge also rests on residents to voice their expectations and push for action so elected officials are forced to follow through. Those who are coming into their final terms should take a good look at their policy and initiatives and ask themselves if they have gone above and beyond for their constituents and dive passionately into dedicated causes and give back to the people who elected them.