‘The New 22’ protest term limits at City Hall

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The battle to repeal the term limits law heated up last Thursday in front of City Hall as “The New 22” led by Queens city council candidates Joyce Shepard, Norbert Chwat and Saundra Pope protested the move to undo the outcome of two voter referendums.

“The New 22” plans to challenge the city council incumbents who are working to kill the term limits law that will bar them from running for re-election in November.

Shepard, a Bay Terrace activist, is trying to round up 22 candidates for the City Council as a counterpoint to what she calls “The Old 22” members who want to reverse term limits.

“We are grassroots activists,” Shepard said during the protest. “They have the nerve to continually say they represent us and then go and show the other side of their face and try to repeal term limits.”

She was later thrown out of the City Council’s Government Operations Committee hearing after a loud disagreement with committee chairwoman Mary Pinckett (D-Brooklyn) over whose home was City Hall.

Shepard, who is running on the Democratic ticket for Councilman Mike Abel’s (R-Bayside) seat in northeast Queens, said her group will “no longer tolerate” this type of political behavior from the city council membership. She was joined by Chwat, a Democratic candidate for the seat held by Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hill), and Pope, who is running for Councilman Archie Spigner’s (D-Jamaica) post.

With the whole Queens delegation slated to lose their council seats, there is fear that the borough will forfeit most of its clout in the Council.

Inside City Hall the Government Operations Committee heard from a wide array of people at a hearing on term limits, there was no end to the argument after nine hours of testimony.

Both sides of the debate wheeled out their artillery for the first of two hearings on the bill, which was enacted after voter referendums in 1993 and 1996.

The next public hearing was scheduled for Thursday, March 15, at 1 p.m. and the full Council was tentatively expected to hear arguments on the bill at the March 28 meeting.

Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), who disagrees with term limits but will not vote to repeal the law, said in his testimony before the committee that overturning the bill would diminish the City Council and its past accomplishments.

“This is a defining moment in this council’s history,” he said. “More than our reputations are at stake. More than our judgment as lawmakers and representatives of the people is at stake here today. Because this debate about term limits is, in the final analysis, only a secondary issue. Today the heart of the matter is not term limits. It is democracy.”

He said that even though term limits are “potentially devastating” to the political process and undemocratic, the Council represents the people of the city and they have spoken.

The law, which permits council members only to serve two consecutive terms, will prevent 35 of the 51 council incumbents from seeking re-election. Term limits can be repealed if 26 council members vote in favor. The measure would then be sent to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who has not said whether he will sign or veto the bill.

If Giuliani vetoes the measure, the Council will need 34 votes to override it, which at this point is unlikely to happen.

Queens council members who have sponsored the bill are: Helen Marshall (D-Elmhurst), Juanita Watkins (D-Laurelton), John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights), Julia Harrison (D-Flushing), Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside), Al Stabile (R-Ozone Park) and Thomas White (D-Jamaica).

Watkins said one of her concerns with term limits was Ron Lauder’s inability to pass the bill on the state level.

Lauder, president of the Estee Lauder Cosmetics empire founded by his mother and erstwhile candidate for mayor, spearheaded the drive for term limits back in the 1990s by giving more than $5 million to the effort.

“This is the most representative body in terms of race and ethnicity,” Watkins said. “We look like the city of New York City more than the state government looks like the state. If you compare the longevity of the state we look like babies.”

Marshall, responding to a comment that term limits would enhance the racial diversity of the Council, said the argument did not hold water. She said that today there are 14 blacks and nine Hispanics already sitting on the 51-member Council.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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