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The Limits of Term Limits

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After 15 years, there is good reason to question whether term limits has added value to city government. The law that was put into place in 1993 with the best of intentions allowed a whole new generation of Council members and other city officials to try their hand at city government. It weeded out those who had grown overly comfortable, but it also eliminated some excellent leaders who knew how to get things done in New York City.

Since then, there has often been the feeling that the city was in the hands of neophytes still learning how to put coalitions together. Perhaps that's why the Council wasted much of its time on silly feel-good legislation such as the law that gave the public the right to not have circulars from local stores left on their doorsteps and the law punishing stores that leave the front door open when the air-conditioning is on.

The most notable exception is Mayor Bloomberg, who applied the skills he learned from his many years running a highly successful business. Bloomberg, who was only nominally a Republican and is now independent, forged a powerful alliance with Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

City Councilman Tony Avella said last week that the people should get to vote on whether or not to do away with term limits. "I have always felt that elected officials should set an example," he said. "The worst possible action that any politician can take is to change the law to keep themselves in office ...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."

His comments were directed in particular to the mayor. And that's ironic because the mayor probably deserves another term as much or more than anyone in city government. Nevertheless, we agree. If term limits are killed, the mayor should not run again.

But we do not agree that the issue must go to a popular vote. The people elected the Council members and if they vote to change the law, that too is democracy. Where once leaders saw being on the Council as an end in itself and remained there for decades, under term limits being a council member is now a stepping stone to state or federal office.

The time has come to seriously consider whether term limits are really working in the people's favor. We think not.

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