Monday, October 20, 2008

Let the people's voice be heard

The City Council is on the verge of striking a serious blow to democracy. Over 1 million New Yorkers have voted in two seperate referenda to limit City office holders to two consecutive four-year terms. Now that the mayor and most of the City Council are near the end of their maximum eight years, they want to change the rules of the game by extending term limits another four years. And they don't want to let the people decide on the wisdom of such a change---they want to vote themselves another term through legislative fiat.

Whatever you think about the merits of term limits, whether you aprove or not of Mayor Bloomberg's performance, it's imperative that all New Yorks stand up to this unprecedented power grab. I urge you to sign an online petition to express your opinion at

Below is the testimony I submitted to the New York City Council at the hearings on the topic last week:
Thank you Mr. Chairman. My name is Mark Levine. I am a Democratic District Leader and a likely 2009 City Council candidate. I wish to speak in the strongest possible terms against the proposal to extend term limits through legislative action.

Those who advocate overturning the 8-year term limit rule for city office holders routinely claim that all they want to do is to give the voters a fair chance to make a choice. Some even claim that any election is a form of term limits--since voters, they would have us believe, can easily vote an incumbent out of office. But such statements fly in the face of the reality of elections in New York.

The reelection rate for incumbents in New York is 98%. That's higher than the reelection rate was for officials in the former Soviet Union. In Albany, where there are no term limits, tenures in the state legislature routinely run past two and even three decades. The same was true for the City Council before term limits were instituted here in 2001. For all practical purposes, absent term limits, incumbency in New York is a lifetime privilege.

Now there are many things that those who oppose term limits could do if they were sincere in their desire to provide free and fair choices to voters:
  • We can, and should, reform the state's election laws, almost universally acknowledged to be the most Byzantine in the nation, to make it harder to knock grassroots candidates off the ballot by invoking obscure technicalities.
  • We can, and should, end gerrymandering, which is used to draw districts that
    favor keeping incumbents in office.
  • We can, and should, bring the City's Board of Elections into the 21st century, by ending the practice of staffing entirely with patronage hires.

But those now calling for a weakening of the term limits law have not acted to implement ANY of these reforms over the past 7 1/2 years, which makes it
obvious for all the world to see that their interest is in anything but "giving voters a fair chance to make a choice." Their interest is in giving themselves the chance to run for reelection under a system that they--and we--know is designed to virtually guarantee they will stay in office. That is neither fair, nor democratic, and it's a path that I urge the Council not to follow.


Blogger Joy Leftow said...

You got my vote mark levine!

11:39 AM  

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