Gerson and Mendez must now hold the line

Three weeks ago, in this space, we stated our position on term limits. Since that time, there have been major developments on the issue at City Hall, yet our position has remained resolute: Yes, we think three terms are better than two for city officials, because it allows them to learn the ropes and bring their full expertise to bear; and because being limited to only two terms causes politicians to constantly scramble just to hold a job, instead of focusing on the real issues that need their attention.

And, yes, we think Mayor Bloomberg should get the chance to run for a third term and that his business acumen would surely help in these troubled financial times. But we stressed, in no uncertain terms, unequivocally, that term limits should only be extended by a voter referendum.

Yet, the mayor and Council Speaker Chris Quinn subsequently have rocked the city’s very political foundations by pushing to change term limits legislatively — without a vote by the public, this despite two previous referenda in the 1990s that saw thousands of New Yorkers back term limits of eight years.

Quinn has been taking more heat than the mayor — and rightfully so. She could tell the mayor no, and the matter would be ended. Elected on her progressive credentials, Quinn has essentially become the mayor’s enabler. The line between the executive and legislative branches of city government has been erased: With Quinn’s abiding concern appearing to be to ingratiate herself with the mayor, to secure his support for a future mayoral run of her own, we’ve lost our “checks and balances” at City Hall. This week, the Post’s Page Six reported if Quinn loses her speakership, Bloomberg has now assured her a job as deputy mayor.

Quinn and the rest of the council have a clear conflict of interest. They will be voting themselves the chance for more power and money — half a million apiece by government watchdog Henry Stern’s count — if they vote to overturn term limits.

With the council vote just one week away, it’s up to our other local legislators to hold the line in the face of what is no less than an assault on democracy. Councilmember Rosie Mendez has taken the principled stand against the idea of 26 councilmembers overruling the will of the people.

Councilmember Alan Gerson has repeatedly, including just last month, stated he favors changing term limits only through a referendum. Gerson told us he was “very angry” at the mayor for not acting sooner to put the term-limits issue on the ballot for either last year’s or this year’s general election, but now he is “uncommitted” on whether he will vote to allow the council to legislatively extend term limits. He said he’ll decide after this week’s public hearings.

A conflicted Gerson — who would be term-limited out of office at next year’s end — must find his backbone on this issue and do the right thing and stick to his word.

Voters will remember, as will we, how our councilmembers acted on this critical issue of democracy.

The use of the current economic crisis by the mayor and Quinn to short-circuit the democratic process is, at its root, unseemly. Whether or not one supports term limits, the idea of changing them without a popular vote is unconscionable.