Billionaires crash Quinn’s term limit presser


By Jefferson Siegel

On Sunday afternoon in the middle of a three-day weekend, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn held a press conference to announce her support of legislation extending term limits to three terms.

Just minutes before she met the press, a rally had concluded outside on the City Hall steps to protest any term limits extension. The rally, sponsored by the group LetNYCVote.com, included speeches by civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who is a candidate for public advocate, and Congressmember Anthony Weiner, who has said he plans to run for mayor regardless of the outcome of the term limits extension legislation.

Siegel said the group plans to sue to prevent any extension of term limits. Joining the group in opposition to the extension were Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation; and Maria Passannante Derr, former Community Board 2 chairperson. Derr has announced she is running for Quinn’s Chelsea/Village council seat, while Berman, though an expected hopeful for the seat, has not declared his candidacy.

“This decision is not one that I take lightly and has come with a great deal of deliberation, dialogue and debate,” Quinn told the packed Red Room, noting she had held “extensive conversations” with colleagues, as well as business leaders, labor officials and good-government advocates.

Touching on a theme used by Mayor Mike Bloomberg in his bid for a third term, Quinn said, “We are facing a global economic crisis that has led to unprecedented challenges for our city.”

Quinn said she believes that “voters should have the choice to keep current leadership.”

Scattered among the audience were five members of the satiric, street-theater group Billionaires for Bloomberg — a new incarnation of the previous group Billionaires for Bush. As Quinn finished answering questions and started to walk out, a man calling himself Phil T. Rich stood up and shook Quinn’s hand, wryly thanking her for joining the coalition of the ultra-rich and ignoring those pesky voters.

“I’m one of the opinionated New Yorkers you spoke about,” Rich said by way of an introduction.

Quinn told him to talk with her staff and quickly exited the room. As she and her aides left, four other people stood up, holding signs reading, “Billionaires Know Best” and “We Paid for 3 Terms,” while chanting, “Whose Mayor? Our Mayor!” and “Whose City? Our City!” One member, going by the name Noah Countability, wore an oversized “E,” bling-style, gold chain imprinted with the word “Enron.”

In a prepared statement, the group thanked Quinn “for casting aside ‘quaint’ notions and backing the Mayor’s plan to extend term limits without a public vote.”

“It’s the opinions of New York’s billionaires that really matter,” said Rich as he chewed on an oversized cigar.

“Democracy is so cute,” said Anita Yacht, dressed in a sleek, black cocktail dress as she stood by the podium after Quinn left. “Do you think those little voters really thought they had a say? That’s ever so darling!”

Outside, a serious-looking Weiner sat on the City Hall steps with Councilmember Letitia James. James has introduced legislation that would put the question of extending term limits to a public vote.

“I hope that Ron Lauder is listening,” Weiner said, “because the same exact argument that the mayor is using is the argument people used against never having term limits.” Lauder funded two public referendums in the 1990s that resulted in voters overwhelmingly deciding to limit elected city officials to two terms. Lauder has recently agreed to support legislation extending limits to three terms.

“To say that having 51 people decide,” Weiner continued, “and substituting their wisdom for the wisdom of the millions of New Yorkers who decided this twice is simply illogical and wrong.”

Calling the proposed extension legislation “disenfranchisement,” Weiner suggested the issue is a voting-rights question that may require U.S. Justice Department intervention.

James said she was unaware of any councilmember who has been pressured by Speaker Quinn to pass the extension.

Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern chimed in with a question, wondering how the retention of the current 51 councilmembers would help to resolve the world financial crisis.

“I don’t know,” Wiener replied.

NY1 is keeping a tally of where the councilmembers stand on the issue. As of Tuesday afternoon, 19 councilmembers had sided against the bill, 15 were in support of it and 17 were undecided. Eleven more councilmembers would have to support the bill for it to have the required number of 26 votes for it to pass.

The vote could occur as early as Oct. 23. If the extension does not pass, 35 members — or about two-thirds of the City Council — will be term-limited out of office next year, including Quinn.

The council will hold two public hearings on the legislation. The first is this Thurs., Oct. 16, starting at 1 p.m. in the Council Chambers. The second, on Fri., Oct. 17, starts at 10 a.m., and will be held in the far smaller Council Committee Room.