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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bloomberg Goes Ahead With His Fight For Changing Term Limits Law Without a Referendum

Ok, let's look at this issue again: A successful businessman who happens to be a billionaire and who sees himself as the only one who can do the job of mayoring, decides to change the law in New York City without a vote by the people he supposedly serves in order to take a third term in office - along with NY City Council members - by fiat justitia, ruat coelum ("Let right be done, though the heavens should fall"). He then makes it financially beneficial for anyone who agrees with him (does the word "bribery" mean anything to you?). Oh yes, then there is the lovely incentive of a lifetime pension as well as health benefits paid out to all city employees who are in office 10 years or more (this includes City Council members) using our tax dollars. The expenditure of taxpayer funds to all those people who may get a third term and who will then be able to collect for the rest of their lives is an awful thought to me, a person who has seen people's lives and careers go down quickly and unfairly simply because the city thinks they are too old, too disabled, too smart, etc.; and let's keep in mind that people are losing their homes and jobs while these former officials get a free ride until they die.

I have a great idea: if anyone wins a third term through legislation and not a public referendum, then every dollar that could have gone toward paying their health benefits will be given, by written agreement, to a special fund run by an Attorney General for Schools. This position would be established in the controller's office and would be audited every year. The check register would be posted online. Our public school children can get smaller class size, special ed providers, books, and other resources that would allow them to succeed academically, socially and emotionally.

By the way, I attended the term limits Hearing on thursday evening, and sat until my eyes started crossing at about 10PM. What struck me the most was the anger and inappropriate comments by Mr. Felder and Robert "Bob" Jackson (chair of NY City Council Education Committee). After Democratic lobbyist Mr. Steve Kramer spoke about how much he opposed an extension of term limits and how he would try to prevent anyone who went for a third term from getting voted back in, Bob yelled at him, and ended his screaming and angry opposition to what Steve said by suggesting that they take their argument outside. Bob, it is time for you to go to another job somewhere else, where you are not 'threatened' by public opinions that are not in agreement with your own.
Passions ran high, especially when former governor Mario Cuomo (picture below) and City Councilmember Charles Barron went head to head (Cuomo votes for an extension of term limits, Barron opposes this).

I guess that is what happens when money/benefits and not public opinion is important. That's my two cents,
Betsy Combier

Mayor Bloomberg makes it official: I'm going to seek third term
Updated Friday, October 3rd 2008, 1:27 AM

Mayor Bloomberg publicly announced that he will run for a third term.

The city needs him for four more years, Mayor Bloomberg said Thursday - and anyone who doesn't like it should vote for someone else.

"Given the events of recent weeks and given the enormous challenges we face, I don't want to walk away from a city I feel I can help lead through these tough times," Bloomberg said.

"I want to give the voters a chance to decide if they want me at the helm. If voters don't like what they've seen, they will vote for someone else."

Bloomberg will ask the City Council next week to extend the city's term limits law to three terms from two, and insiders expect it to be rapidly approved - despite misgivings from some members and outrage from politicians whose plans for next year are in limbo.

"Handling this financial crisis while strengthening essential services, such as education and public safety, is a challenge I want to take on for the people of New York," the mayor said.

"We are in for a very tough couple of years, no matter what Congress does. It is a worldwide problem."

Opponents said any change should be submitted to voters in a special election, since New Yorkers first approved the two-term limit in referendums in the 1990s.

"This is the quintessential inside deal between two ends of City Hall substituting for the judgment that people made in two referenda," said an angry Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn/Queens), who still plans to run for mayor.

Bloomberg said he still believes in term limits, and New Yorkers should vote whether the limits should be two terms or three - sometime after he runs again.

He ruled out a special election next spring, despite calls from good government groups and many politicians that voters must have a say now.

"Bloomberg can have the issue of term limits presented to the voters by late winter," said Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "If he doesn't, it's clear he's both afraid and contemptuous of city voters at the same time."

Bloomberg had for years defended the two-term limit, saying it would be "disgraceful" for the Council to overturn it.

His flip-flop shocked some top aides, who had been planning for life after the administration, but must gear up for another election.

"I am disappointed. I have over a period of years taken the mayor at his word. I just think this is a whole attempt to undermine democracy," said Controller Bill Thompson, another mayoral candidate.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who had also been raising money for a mayoral bid, insisted she won't make up her mind until she hears from Council members at a Monday meeting.[Ms. Quinn did not attend any of the City Council Hearings on the issue of a third term]

She is a strong ally of Bloomberg, though, and Council members said her staff is rounding up votes to pass the measure. If that happens, she said, she will run for reelection again as a councilwoman and as speaker.

"This isn't a backroom deal at all," Quinn said.

Still, fear of a backlash may be holding some of the 51 Council members from supporting the change publicly.

While insiders insist the bill has enough votes to pass - "30, solid," said one councilman involved in the counting - just 10 of 40 surveyed by the Daily News said they will support it, with 16 undecided.

The mayor's bill is scheduled to be introduced Tuesday and sent to the Government Operations Committee, whose chairman, Councilman Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) - a staunch Bloomberg ally - promised to hold full public hearings.
With Frank Lombardi, Erin Einhorn and Kathleen Lucadamo

October 19, 2008 --
Mayor Bloomberg showered cash on key City Council members with the power to kill a term-limits extension bill in the last year.

Members of the council's Government Operations Committee have received millions from Hizzoner's slush fund, a once-secret pot of taxpayer money the mayor doles out to favored lawmakers for their pet causes.

All the members are Democrats who will decide whether the change in term limits - which the mayor needs in order to run for a third term - goes before the council for a full vote.

Five members of the committee secured $3.1 million from the $5.3 million stash in Bloomberg's 2008 budget. Only three other council members received funds from the mayor in the last year. Two are Republicans, and the third, Councilman James Vacca, received a considerably smaller amount, $20,000, than the other beneficiaries.

Government Operations Committee chairman Simcha Felder (Brooklyn), pictured at right, received $1.9 million from the mayor's fund, far more than any of his council colleagues. He has received funds from Bloomberg's fund every year since 2003, in which time the allocations have doubled. It is widely believed Felder supports a term-limits change.

Fellow committee members Domenic Recchia, Helen Sears, Erik Dilan and Peter Vallone Jr. each received between $50,000 and $625,000 from the mayor's fund.

"I think it's obvious that Bloomberg was trying to curry favor here. What else are discretionary funds for?" said one councilman against extending term limits. "Term limits is the most important issue out there, period . . . I think this is one way he laid the groundwork."

Bloomberg's slush fund was discontinued in June, after The Post revealed the existence of a separate City Council slush fund. Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser said the funding handed out a year ago had no connection to today's term limits debate.

Meanwhile, the committee members were favored with some of the most generous handouts from Council Speaker Christine Quinn - Bloomberg's closest ally in the fight to extend term limits - in this year's budget.

Recchia saw his council funding soar 19 percent, Dilan's rose 14 percent, Larry Seabrook's 25 percent, and Inez Dickens' 20 percent. The average council member's funding rose only 9 percent this year.

All but Dickens - whose public stance on term limits is undecided - have said they'll vote yes on allowing incumbents to run for a third four-year term.

Vallone and Sears, who are undecided on term limits, didn't see their allocations spike. But they still collected a combined $1.5 million for their causes. Felder received $432,000, a 5 percent increase.

A Quinn spokesman said that when you take into account the entire $30.7 million funding pool, the allocations to committee members were "insignificant."

But some speculate it was part of a heavy-handed campaign to entice lawmakers to support a term-limits extension, the aggressiveness of which came to light last week as:

* Union brass have personally lobbied council members to support term limits. According to a source, some unions have met with the mayor's office in hopes of getting perks in exchange for their support.

* City-funded arts groups have also pressed city legislators. One member said she received "dozens" of calls from "groups I really respect."

* Committee chairmanships have been promised by Quinn to several council members - at least two of whom have been offered the finance chair in exchange for a yes vote.

* A councilwoman was "offered the world. . ..rec centers, parks, affordable housing and more discretionary money" in a meeting last week urging her to support term limits.

Political shuffling in the spring also raised eyebrows.

Sears, who has backed Bloomberg on hotbed issues in the past, was appointed to the Government Operations committee in May, replacing term-extension foe Councilman Joe Addabo Jr.

In June, as Bloomberg mulled a third-term run, Felder abandoned his city comptroller aspirations - which, if limits are extended, may have put him in a tough race against incumbent Bill Thompson. The mayor then endorsed Felder for a state Senate run.

"[Felder] respects the mayor but he doesn't vote the way the mayor tells him to vote," Eric Kuo, the councilman's spokesman, said.

Mayor spokesman Loeser said "absolutely no quid pro quos have been offered," but said the mayor's office has met with "all kinds of people who we've worked with" to "make our case and get the votes we need to pass it."

Furor over changing term limits no joke for Simcha Felder
Thursday, October 9th 2008, 4:00 AM

If the City Council has a class clown, it's Simcha Felder.

The Brooklyn Democrat is known for his pixyish humor and candor. He once ducked into the men's room to avoid a ticklish Council vote.

He cracked, "The only thing I'm acknowledging (is) that if you asked me, 'Is it true that the record shows that I was present but did not vote? Yes, that's what I acknowledge."

But Felder, as chairman of the Governmental Operations Committee, is now the man-in-the-middle of the serious issue of changing term limits, and he won't be able to take a powder from this very thorny task.

Warring term-limits measures have been referred to his committee. As chairman, he will preside over a lawmaking process some have likened to making sausage - it's so messy you don't want to see how it's done.

Felder will have to deal with infighting and pressure, negotiations with the mayor's camp, and lobbying from a bevy of vested interests, including good-government groups, unions, egocentric elected and political officials and who knows who else. And public hearings scheduled for Oct. 16 and 17 could be tumultuous.

Questions about his role have been raised. He's a close ally and supporter of Mayor Bloomberg, who has requested a four-year extension of term limits.

Felder has also been the main beneficiary of $21 million in discretionary funding (commonly called pork) the mayor directed to favored Councilmembers over a six-year span. Felder's share was $5.7 million, which he dispensed to nonprofit groups in his Borough Park district.

"That's a conflict of interest," Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) said at Tuesday's session.

That drew rebukes from several colleagues, including Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Queens), who called Barron's comment "despicable."

Felder said the fact he was able to help community groups "continue doing the holy work that they do" demonstrates why he should be holding the hearings. People "want an advocate" who helps his community, he said.

New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. urges members of the New York City Council to vote against a measure to extend term limits and instead move to put the matter before New Yorkers, at a City Hall hearing on October 17, 2008. Picutred (l to r)are: New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum; New York State Assembly Member Ruben Diaz, Jr.; Thompson; New York State Congress Member Nydia M. Velazquez; and, New York State Assembly Member Hakeem Jefferies.


October 19, 2008 --
The city comptroller said Sunday that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is strong-arming City Council members to support his plan to change the city's term-limits law so he can run again, but a Bloomberg spokesman denied it.

Comptroller William Thompson (pictured at right) said some council members had been threatened with losing perks such as committee chairmanships or funding for programs in their districts. He did not say who they were.

"Undue pressure has been placed on them," Thompson said.

Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser said no inappropriate pressure was being applied.

"We're certainly making our case to members of the council and asking for their votes, but those allegations are untrue," Loeser said.

Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent, announced earlier this month that he would aim to modify the city charter so that he could seek a third term. Existing law limits city officeholders to two consecutive four-year terms, and he is set to leave office at the end of 2009.

The billionaire founder of the financial information company Bloomberg LP said he decided to pursue a third term because he believes his financial expertise is crucial in the ongoing economic crisis.

The City Council could vote on the term-limits proposal as early as this week.

Thompson, a Democrat who had been considered a likely mayoral candidate, said two public hearings last week were not enough to give New Yorkers a chance to air their views on the issue.

He said the matter should be put before voters in a referendum following hearings in all five boroughs. Voters set the current limit in a 1993 referendum and reaffirmed it three years later.

"This rush to judgment in a two-and-a-half-week period of time is wrong," Thompson said.

The New York Times reported Friday that organizations that receive both city funds and grants from Bloomberg's personal giving have been asked to call undecided City Council members to make the case for a third term. Loeser told the newspaper the mayor was careful to keep his philanthropic giving separate from his management of the city.

Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the advocacy group NYPIRG, said that while Bloomberg has not violated the letter of ethics laws, "it doesn't pass the smell test."

"Does Mayor Bloomberg realize what it looks like to press groups getting money from the city?" said Russianoff, who attended Thompson's news conference near the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge. "It looks like an administration desperately abusing its powers to stay in office."

Earlier Sunday, leaders of several municipal and private-sector unions announced their support for the mayor's bid to change the term limits law.

"Our unions have been through many fiscal crises over the years, but none has been equal to the current tremendous financial emergency facing our city," said city sanitation union President Harry Nespoli(pictured at right with Mike Bloomberg).

Leaders of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, the Detectives' Endowment Association, the Construction Trades Council, Teamsters Local 282 and Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ joined Nespoli at a news conference on the steps of City Hall.

In Gotham Gazette, we get a historical perspective:
NYC Term Limits Revisited
by Mark Berkey-Gerard, March 14, 2005

prominent New Yorkers saw it as the coming of the apocalypse:

“Disastrous!” -- City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Sr.

“Shambles!” -- Councilmember Stanley Michels.

“Deadly and dastardly!” -- Councilmember Julia Harrison.

“Chaos in government!” -- an editorial in the New York Times.

For years, the message was repeated in television commercials, newspaper articles, courtrooms, and on the steps of City Hall. But it was not an economic recession, a Wall Street crash, or even the possibility of a terrorist attack that caused such alarm.

It was term limits.

Despite the dire warnings, New Yorkers voted twice - in 1993 and 1996 - to restrict local elected officials to just two terms in office.

Of course, not everyone shared in the doom and gloom.

In a City Council with some members who had been in office since the Nixon administration, many predicted a civic renaissance of new people and ideas in government.

“New York City cast a historic vote,” said Ronald Lauder, the billionaire who financially backed the term limits movement. “And government here will never be the same.”

On December 31, 2001, New York experienced the greatest turnover in government in the city’s history. The mayor, comptroller, public advocate, four of the five borough presidents, and two-thirds of the members of the City Council were kicked out of office.

This year, term limits will once again play a role in the political season. (See Gotham Gazette's Campaign 2005) Seven more legislators - the Manhattan Borough President, the Speaker of the City Council, and five veteran council members - will be forced to leave office. (See a chart of who is term limited in 2005)

But more than three years after term limits went into effect, how much has changed in government and in New York City?


The debate over term limits is as old as democracy in America.

George Washington voluntarily stepped down after two terms as president, a tradition that continued until Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only president to serve longer; the 22nd amendment passed in 1951 made sure that never happened again. Since the subject was debated at the first Constitutional Convention, the arguments for and against term limits have remained generally the same.

Proponents argue term limits can:

* Bring fresh views and opinions to government
* Make representatives more responsive to the people
* Help eliminate abuses that come with an unlimited tenure
* And overcome the insurmountable advantages of incumbency and make elections more competitive.

“The more secure an office holder, the more his interests would diverge from those of his constituents,” Andrew Jackson once said.

Those opposed to term limits argue that they:

* Remove the most experienced people from government
* Strengthen the role of lobbyists and government staff
* Weaken the legislative branch of government
* And create politicians who are more concerned about their next job than serving voters.

If voters want to kick someone out of office, opponents of term limits say, they can always do so in the next election.

“Much safer is it, and much more does it tend to promote the welfare and happiness of society to fill up the offices of government after the mode prescribed in the American Constitution, by frequent elections of the people,” argued Samuel Adams.


Term limits came to New York City in 1993, thanks to wealthy businessman Ronald Lauder, who after an unsuccessful run for mayor decided to financially back the movement. The group New Yorkers for Term Limits gathered nearly 130,000 signatures, took the city to court, and won a State Supreme Court ruling to put the issue on the ballot.

In November 1993, New Yorkers voted to “limit all elected officials in New York City to two consecutive terms in office” by a vote of 59 to 41 percent.

Term limits has never had support from the traditional sources of power in New York. Most politicians, newspaper editorial pages, and good government groups opposed the measure. (Read a Citizens Union report on term limits in pdf format)

Lawmakers have tried to overturn it at various points in recent years.

In 1996, the City Council tried to amend the term limits law, placing an initiative on the ballot to extend terms from 8 to 12 years and creating “staggered terms.” Voters rejected the idea.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, outgoing Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said that given the dire state of the city, he should be allowed to remain in office at least for a few months to help ease the transition in government. The effort stalled in Albany, where Democrats were eager to see the mayor out of office.

In 2002, term limits again became an issue when City Council Speaker Gifford Miller proposed an amendment, arguing that a quirk in the law would force him and five other members out of office after serving less than eight years. Michael Bloomberg opposed the measure, but the council overrode his veto. A court upheld the new law, allowing Miller, who is now running for mayor, to stay in office until the end of 2005.


In the first few months of 2002, the dire predictions that term limits would lead to chaos in government were proved wrong.

Mayor Bloomberg hired new staff and the City Council elected Gifford Miller as the new speaker. Both branches of government quickly began the tasks of managing the city and trying to address a serious budget deficit.

It is impossible to predict what a Giuliani third term would have looked like and how he and the former council might have handled situations like the rebuilding of lower Manhattan, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s financial problems, and the fiscal crisis.

But there are a few tangible things that probably would not have occurred without term limits.

Michael Bloomberg was successful in gaining control of the city schools, something Giuliani and other mayors sought, but Albany refused to give. (Many New Yorkers do not agree that reforms have had tangible results.)

But one can argue that some of Bloomberg’s ideas -- such as the 2012 Olympics, the 311 non-emergency line, a plan to build 100,000 units of housing, or new efforts to address homelessness -- would not have happened if Giuliani had been reelected.

In the City council, lead paint legislation is one of the clear distinctions from the past. The courts eventually struck down the version of the law passed by the previous council. The current more stringent regulations, which former Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. opposed, would probably never have come up for a vote.

Other bills like “living wage” legislation, domestic partnership benefits for employees of city contractors, and bans on predatory lending were discussed in the past, but never voted on.

Today, many of those who once opposed term limits as an anti-democratic measure that limited the choice of voters have been pleasantly surprised by the result.

“My initial reaction to the term limits was negative, but the experience of how they have worked has changed my mind,” said John Mollenkopf, professor at the City University of New York. “On balance, I think this feature of government does create openings for fresh thinking and new leadership.”

“The days of ridiculing the council as 'less than a rubber stamp’ are long gone,” said Neil Rosenstein of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which opposed term limits. “And the days when the council spent most of its time naming streets are also over.”


Predictions that term limits would spark a radical change in government have not materialized either.

Critics of the City Council point out that the lawmakers still debate resolutions about international relations, draft meaningless legislation, and hold hearings on matters over which they have no authority.

Many of the old political traditions continue. Committee assignments are still doled out in return for political favors, and nearly every vote in the City Council is unanimous because the speaker controls the legislative agenda. And the City Council does still change street names.

There have also been a fair share of scandals and embarrassments at City Hall in recent years, including indictments, charges of sexual harassment, and corruption in city agencies.

“At best I’d call it a wash,” said Republican Councilmember James Oddo, who was a proponent of the term limits legislation. “In the previous council, a bunch of dead wood was forced out, but a lot of good people were pushed out as well.”


Part of the reason for the continuation of the status quo is that those elected since term limits went into effect are remarkably similar to their predecessors.

The majority of the new officials came through the traditional pathways to power, working on the staffs of elected officials or in city government, earning the backing of the county parties, and seeking the endorsements from the outgoing official. Ten of the 51 current council members are relatives of New York politicians; four are former state legislators.

When it comes to gender and race, little has changed. Of the 59 people holding local elected office today, there are the same number of women (19), one more Latino (11), and three more African-Americans (15) than in 2001.

The most notable exception is Flushing Councilmember John Liu, who is the first Asian American elected to city government, having replaced Julia Harrison, a council member who served for 16 years and once referred to immigration in her district as “an invasion.”

In a city where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans five-to-one, term limits has not radically altered the political landscape. Including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, there are only four Republicans in local office, two fewer than in 2001.

However, one of the biggest beneficiaries of term limits may be the Working Families Party, a political party formed by labor and community organizers in 1998.

In the 2001 elections, many candidates, looking for additional support outside of the Democratic Party, sought out the Working Families endorsement. Once in office, these officials have advocated for changes in welfare-to-work regulations, worked closely with labor unions, and lobbied against budget cuts to social programs.

“Term limits has been deliciously ironic,” said Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party. “It was instigated by the right and has done nothing but help the left. Ronald Lauder’s millions helped community organizations and labor become better represented in the council.” (pictured at right are Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Lauder, with Jeanne Rohatyn).


In the past, incumbent City Council members were basically assured of reelection. Proponents of term limits have long argued that the only way to create competitive races is to bar the incumbent from running.

In 2001, term limits, coupled with the city’s campaign finance program, which offered as much as $4 in public money for every $1 a candidate raised, produced a record number of new candidates, sometimes with half a dozen candidates or more running for one seat.

But many less experienced candidates found that while the incumbent was out of office, there were other significant obstacles to overcome.

District lines are drawn with specific political goals in mind. Hundreds of candidates were knocked off the ballot for minor irregularities when the local Democratic organizations took them to court. And others dropped out under the strain of mounting legal bills.

"Using these type of shenanigans to deny the voters the right to choose is shameful," said Inderjit Singh, a candidate who has been repeatedly knocked off the ballot in Queens.

In 2003, the power of incumbency was once again evident; all incumbent council members - two thirds of which had only served two years - were reelected, most by a wide margin.

Again this year, the vacant seats are generating the most interest. The race for Manhattan Borough President, for example, already has ten candidates, most of whom currently hold political office.


Another concern about term limits was that when a new class of less experienced lawmakers came into office, the government staff and lobbyists who work behind the scenes would gain more power.

Most experts argue that staff and lobbyists already have more influence than politicians want to admit, and that they haven’t seen a great shift in the power structures of City Hall.

“A staff member has always whispered into the ear of the council member to tell them what question to ask or how to vote,” said Neil Rosenstein of NYPIRG. “And they still do.”

But some advocates say term limits has changed their strategies.

Rather than working for years on the same issue with the same group of politicians, advocates are already looking ahead to the next election to influence candidates and build a relationship with the next speaker.

“You don’t have to wait for 20 years, until someone dies or their kid takes over or they are indicted,” said Joshua Klainberg of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “With term limits you lose friends, but you also lose enemies.”


One significant change from the past is an escalating battle over legislation between the mayor and the City Council.

In his first three years in office, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vetoed 27 bills passed by the City Council, four more than Rudolph Giuliani vetoed in eight years in office. And the City Council, with its overwhelmingly Democratic caucus, has overridden every veto.

Some argue that the constant back and forth of vetoes and overrides is healthy, an essential part of the system of checks and balances.

But some say term limits have created unnecessary conflict between lawmakers who are looking to establish a record to distinguish themselves for their next run for office.

“Vetoes paralyze government,” said former Speaker Peter Vallone, Sr., who remains an adamant opponent of term limits. “A veto should be the exception and not the rule. There is not time to analyze and consider and reach compromises as in the past.”


In 2001, term limits cleared out a class of people who had been in office for decades, but in the future it will put many politicians, who are just beginning to establish a record and a political identity, out of a job.

Gifford Miller, for example, is 35 years old with nine years of experience in the council; he has only been speaker since January 2002. If he is unsuccessful in his bid for mayor, he will have to wait for another opening in government if he wants to remain an elected representative. Three current council members are running for Manhattan Borough President.

On one side, politicians are eager to make a record for themselves and to win over voters.

“People realize they have a shelf life and have to make a name for themselves quickly,” said Oddo.

On the other side, some believe this lack of job security may actually be bad for citizens.

“You have bright people with experience focusing on their career rather than the job they are doing,” said Councilmember Phil Reed, who will be forced out of office at the end of the year.


Many experts say that it is still too early to tell the lasting impact of term limits particularly in the City Council, which was expanded and given more powers in 1991 and is still learning how to exercise all of its authority.

“It seems to me the next turnover and what happens in its wake - for example who gets the speakership after Miller leaves office - will be particularly instructive as to how the council as an institution works with term limits,” said Mollenkopf.

Many say that it takes a legislator one or two years to really get a sense of the job. And it is likely that the next Speaker of the City Council will only serve for four years, which means shortly after gaining the position he or she will be considered a “lame duck.”

New York already has a strong mayoral system of government and the legislative branch is at a disadvantage. A weak speaker, many believe, also means a weak council. And with a revolving door of officials constantly leaving and arriving, it may be difficult for the council to establish an identity and agenda.

“The longer term limits continue the weaker the legislature will become,” said Peter Vallone, Sr.

But term limits is not likely to change anytime soon. For the measure to be appealed or amended it would take an act of the state government in Albany, a place where government has become so entrenched with incumbents and political interests that some wonder if the only way to bring change is to institute term limits on the state level as well.


Gotham Gazette’s Campaign 2005

Who Is Term Limited Out of Office in 2005?

Brief History of Election Law in NYC

Power of Incumbency

The Speech that Saved Term Limits - Stephen Fiala, 2001

U.S. Term Limits

Photo from a Working Families Party press conference, October 6th
Other Related Articles:
Term Limits as a Voting Right Issue (2008-10-16)

Stated Meeting: Waterfronts and East Harlem (2008-10-14)

Tackling Campaign Finance Reform (2008-10-14)

Comparing Proposals on Term Limits (2008-10-08)

Federal Transportation Spending: Pork or Priority? (2008-10-08)

Make That Three: Bloomberg's Reelection Bid (2008-10-06)

The Citizen (2008-09-28)

Another look at Simcha Felder comes in an article written by former City Council member Henry Stern:

Hon. Simcha Felder Enforces Oral Rule He Promulgated
By Henry J. Stern, December 13, 2007

"A funny thing happened to me on the way to the studio.." That was the way radio comedians began their routines fifty or sixty years ago. That stock opener was resurrected in 1962 in the title of a Broadway play, "A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum". The play was set in ancient Rome. It was directed by George Abbott, who died at 107, and produced by Harold Prince, who is now a young 79.

Well, a funny thing happened to me at the City Council recently (Dec 5). A hearing had been scheduled by the Government Operations Committee of the Council on the subject of Council Members' lulus and outside employment. The hearing was held to keep a commitment made at the Council meeting on November 15, 2006, thirteen months ago, when they increased their own salaries by 25 percent (to a minimum of $112,500, with over eight-ninths of the body receiving additional stipends, ranging from $4,000 to $28,500, for leadership roles or the burden of chairing committees or subcommittees). The raises were retroactive to November 1. At the next payday, the members received the timely Christmas (or Holiday) gift with which the gifted members had gifted themselves.

Requiring some time to prepare a written statement for the hearing (which I learned about that morning from Citizens Union), being familiar with how long hearings take and the way they are supposed to be conducted, and having to travel from our midtown office, I arrived at the hearing at about 11 a.m.

I was pleased to see that the hearing was still under way, and that Dick Dadey of Citizens Union, Neil Rosenstein of NYPIRG and a potential Council candidate were seated at the witness table, being questioned at some length by the chair, Hon. Simcha Felder of Borough Park, Brooklyn. As required, I told the sergeant at arms I had arrived, and gave him copies of my testimonyto give to the committee.

I was then informed by the committee counsel, that I would not be allowed to testify because Chairman Felder had instituted a rule that no one could testify at a hearing who had not arrived by fifteen minutes after the hearing began. I had never heard of this rule in my own nine years on the Council, and did not know of any other chair of a committee who restricted testimony in this way.

I asked Mr. Felder whether this "rule had been reduced to writing.” He allowed that it did not appear on any printed page. Although I am not an expert on the intricacies of the Administrative Procedure Act, I had never heard of an "undocumented rule", promulgated at will, never ratified by man or beast, and enforced at the pleasure of the chair..

It seems like a common-sense requirement, perhaps unstated in writing because it is so elementary, that if a rule be promulgated by a public agency, it must at least be stated in writing somewhere, so that people affected by it could have an opportunity to learn of it.

Mr. Felder succeeded to Brooklyn Civil Court Judge Noach Dear's seat in the Council in 2002, speaks of himself as a candidate for City Comptroller in 2009. He is sometimes confused with Councilman Lewis Fidler, also of Brooklyn, but they are far from the same.

He was courteous to me as an individual. He recited some of my experience in government, said that if we had an argument, he would lose it. He was neither bitter or hostile. His plaint was that that if he allowed me to testify, he would be unable to deny the right to testify to others who violated Felder's Rule by arriving after his timeline, which he then stated was twenty minutes. It was in the interest of fairness, therefore, that he not allow me to testify..

At the time, there were about 20 people in the room, committee members, staff, press and witnesses. The public attendees could be counted on one hand. Nobody else sought to testify. The time was about 11:30 in the morning, so lunch was not an immediate concern. The issue was not one of logistics or lack of resources. It was a matter of principle

The press appeared quite interested in the chair's refusal to allow me to testify. They questioned him closely after the meeting ended. You can link to the News account by Frank Lombardi or the Post story by Frankie Edozien.

I had distributed my relatively noncontroversial statement by hand to the reporters and to the other members then in attendance: Inez Dickens of Manhattan, Joseph Addabbo, Jr., of Queens, and Dominick Recchia of Brooklyn (who came by for a few minutes) I was told that Larry Seabrook of the Bronx had been present but had left before my arrival, so I was unable to hear his attack on Citizens Union. His words were, however, alluded to in a Daily News editorial, Cirque du Simcha, which we link to, as well as append to this article.

No substantial harm was done by not allowing me to speak, (Rule 13-F: "No blood, no foul".) This account is not the result of high dudgeon but of mild disappointment, because I had hoped to enter into a dialogue with the members, if they were to ask questions. City Council committee hearings often take several hours, with numerous speakers. The point of a public hearing is to hear from the public. That purpose is frustrated when witnesses are silenced by arbitrary and manufactured rules.

Especially when they are discussing their own pay and prerogatives, the solons should listen to citizens who want to offer their views. Too bad they just don't understand..

Why should every witness have to be present all day, practically from the start of the hearing? What is the point of it? If they were lawyers, testifying for a fee, they would have to be paid for the hours they waited, which would put a great burden on those who retained their services.

Reasonable rules are necessary, and we believe there should be basic procedural standards for all committees, published and available to those who want to come before the committee. These rules should be agreed to by the speaker and adopted by the Council. We do not believe that individual chairs should be able to set arbitrary personal standards as to who can testify and when they must arrive. They should not exclude witnesses who appear in good faith with prepared testimony.

The sequence of events reported here is not an outrage, it is simply foolish. We relate it as an example of an attitude which, in a minor way, contributes the disrespect in which the Council is generally held. Speaker Christine Quinn has made valiant efforts to improve the Council and its public standing. She has acted responsibly in a number of cases to overrule self-promotional committee chairs. She has avoided needless controversy with Mayor Bloomberg, and has earned general approval. She showed a high degree of leadership when a staff member abused a Councilman at a public meeting last year.

It is part of her job to deal with slower and less sensitive members, and she should, and probably will, either persuade or instruct her chairs to treat the public with a modicum of dignity and respect. There may also be some responsibility to do her best to protect witnesses from bizarre verbal assaults by unhappy members, but that bring us into First Amendment issues. That, however, would be a tall order. None of us wants to curtail speech by elected officials or anyone else, certainly not in the absence of a clear and present danger to the witness or to the public.

We are aware of the relative triviality of this matter, compared with the problems that face our city and state. Many issues, however, come down in the end to whether public officials speak and act rationally and co-operatively, or arbitrarily and confrontationally. This applies to the highest positions in State government as well as to the lowliest committee of the City Council.

We cannot legislate or mandate common sense or fair play. We cannot prevent unhappy people from acting high and mighty when an ordinary citizen (Chaim Yankel in Yiddish; John Q. Public in 20th century American) comes before them. The two languages combine in Joe Schmo, a hapless fellow.)

But many issues come down to whether people will act rationally and communally, or arbitrarily and confrontationally. (That was a lot of adverbs.) I know that one cannot legislate common sense, or prevent people from acting high and mighty when they have a shred of power. I also know that most people are in no position to complain when something like this happens to them. I am fortunate that I can share my modest disappointment with our readers, in the hope that the responsible leadership of the Council will prevent similar rebuffs to others who come to an advertised public hearing to present their views to elected officials.

To conclude, especially when Councilmembers are holding a public hearing on their own pay and prerogatives, they should listen to citizens who come to express their opinions. . Too bad that someone just doesn't understand. It's called "the insolence of office."

Cirque du Simcha
NY Daily News, 12/8/07

Councilman Simcha Felder, who heads the committee with jurisdiction over such things, insists he's serious about reforming how lawmakers set their pay, but you wouldn't know it from the farcical hearing he held this week.

First, Felder let one member of the committee, Bronx Councilman Larry Seabrook, deliver a tirade against Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey, who came with thoughtful ideas about the Council's salary structure. Galled that CU, a top civic group, hasn't endorsed him since 1994, Seabrook demanded to know the number of blacks on its board, as well as how much Dadey is paid. Felder laughed at Seabrook's gross badgering until an aide whispered that the press was watching.

Then, Felder hit another witness, Neil Rosenstein of NYPIRG, with the same irrelevant, inappropriate question: How much did he make? Far less than a councilman, Rosenstein responded. (The base salary for this part-time job is $112,500).

Then, Felder refused to let former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, a good-government champion, testify. Felder said Stern had failed to register to speak during the hearing's first 20 minutes - a requirement not written anywhere.

Finally, Brooklyn Councilman Domenic Recchia showed up just minutes before the hearing ended, enabling him to be counted as having attended a meeting he actually had missed.

Why did Felder, who aspires to be controller, run this circus? Because the Council promised to consider pay-raise reform when it okayed a 25% hike last year. Among the items on the agenda: barring members from voting on their own pay and banning the speaker from doling out stipends to members who head committees. These extra "lulus" are now worth as much as $28,500.

Congress lives with both prohibitions per the U.S. Constitution. The Council should abide by the same high standards. But, based on what we've observed, we're not holding our breath.

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