All eight candidates running for speaker of the New York City Council support the idea of extending term limits for councilmembers to three consecutive four-year terms. One of them, Jumaane Williams, has put forth a legislative proposal to do this — though, in curious City Council politics, five of the candidates are not backing his measure.
In addition to himself, also signed onto Williams’s bill is Ydanis Rodriguez, who was the first to broach the idea of extending term limits. Robert Cornegy, another speaker hopeful, has not actually signed onto the bill yet, but is seen as supportive of it.
Under Williams’s legislation, however, the two-term limit for mayor, public advocate, comptroller and borough presidents would remain.
A key caveat to his measure is that the increase would only be approved if voters back it at the ballot box in a general election. Yet, New York City residents have already spoken three times in previous referenda, saying they back two terms and no more.
Obviously, term limits should not be extended legislatively — going around the back of the voters – which is exactly what former Mayor Mike Bloomberg did, with the help of former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, in 2008. Two years later, voters angrily slapped down that move, restoring the two-year term limit for New York City pols.
However, there are good arguments for why 12 years in office is better for councilmembers.
First of all, it’s just better for continuity and institutional memory: The Council would not turn over as fast and there would not be the constant situation where incoming new councilmembers would need to spend time just to get up to speed with their district and the mechanisms of how the Council operates and how business gets done. More to the point, an experienced Council would better perform one of its primary functions: being a check on the mayor’s power.
The New York Post noted that Cornegy has said it takes 10 years for councilmembers to get fully vested in the city’s pension system. That’s not a concern for us, though clearly is for councilmembers.
It’s unclear if a new referendum on this matter would pass muster with voters, though. Clearly, there would have to be a major public-education effort to get the message out that three terms for councilmembers is better than two.
Meanwhile, on a related note, the so-called ABC, or “Anyone But Corey,” campaign continues, with articles in the daily tabloids taking shots at Corey Johnson, one of the speaker candidates. The articles have hit Johnson over everything from accepting financial favors from a campaign volunteer, to owing his landlord back rent (which he has since paid), to smoking on a balcony outside his Council office, despite the fact that he has passed a number of antismoking pieces of legislation. A Johnson source, though, brushed off the attacks as typical “election politics,” and noted that an investigation into the volunteer’s story did not result in any findings of wrongdoing against Johnson.
In addition, the Small Business Congress and David Eisenbach, who recently ran for public advocate, are calling out Cornegy, chairperson of the Council’s Small Business Committee, for not allowing a hearing on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. As we’ve said repeatedly, this long-stalled bill deserves a hearing — and a vote by the full Council. Shame on Cornegy and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for blocking it.
Correction: The original version of this editorial said all eight candidates for City Council speaker support Jumaane Williams’s bill to extend term limits. While all eight do support the idea of extending term limits, five actually currently do not support Williams’s legislation. Also, the editorial indicated that one reason for adding a third term is because it would avoid the situation at elections where term-limited councilmembers are “all running for the same office.” In fact, according to a Williams’s spokesperson, that is not a reason the councilmember wants term limits extended. Rather, he said, the reason is that a more experienced City Council would be a more effective check on mayoral power.