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Avella bill to give voters sole voice on term limits

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Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) introduced a bill in the City Council last Thursday that would require a voter referendum to take place before a bill abolishing or altering term limits could be passed by the legislative body.

Avella, who is running for mayor, has led a vocal campaign against the lifting of term limits since it re-emerged as a hot topic of discussion around City Hall. Thirteen of Queens' 14 City Council members will be term-limited out of office in 2009 and several, like Avella, are eyeing runs at citywide offices — endeavors that would be complicated by such a change.

"I have always felt that elected officials should set an example. The worst possible action that any politician can take is to change the law to keep themselves in office," Avella said. "This decision needs to continue to be kept in the hands of the people. Any attempt by City Council to subvert their say is a step towards dictatorship."

The city instituted a two-term limit on all city offices in 1993. In two voter referendums that followed, city residents voted to continue to hold city politicians to eight years in office.

Some Queens council members, including as John Liu (D-Flushing), disagree with term limits but have said they would be open to overturning the current legislation if the public expressed a desire to do so in a third vote.

Talk of term limits has also raised rumors that Mayor Michael Bloomberg could push for term limits to be extended, a measure that would likely be supported by much of the City Council, in return for a favorable vote on his administra­tion's planned mega-project at Willets Point.

"In an age when people are increasingly cynical about their government, it's critical that the mayor clearly state that he will not play these games," Avella said. "He must make clear that his administration respects the integrity and independence of the land use process."

The mayor's office staunchly denied any link between Willets Point and term limits, adding that Bloomberg has never publicly stated any intention to extend terms in the first place.

Nonetheless, the reports that such a move could be in the works has prompted some officials, such as mayoral candidate and current city Comptroller William Thompson, to call on Bloomberg to give his position publicly.

"It is time that the mayor clearly state his position and not continue this charade," Thompson said in a recent statement.

"I believe the time has come for the mayor to clearly, truthfully and directly let the people of New York City know whether he supports term limit extensions," Thompson said. "And, if in fact he intends to support such a measure, whether he plans to place it before voters or would instead sign legislation to allow it to move forward."

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, ext. 138.

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