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Extend city term limits

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An argument that has recently been repeated is that the decades-old votes on term limits reflect the height of citizen engagement and democracy. Actually, the opposite is true.

The term limit debates in 1993 and 1996 were never fair fights. Millions of dollars were spent convincing the public that choice was bad and elected officials should be thrown out of office regardless of their record.

Even with the backing of many editorial boards and good government groups, we were simply unable to withstand the onslaught of negative and inaccurate information. Public debate, to the degree it occurred, was scant.

During an attempt to revisit the issue in 1997, I urged colleagues not to vote to extend term limits for 12 years. I did so because Ronald Lauder, the chief supporter of term limits in 1993 and 1996, vowed to continue his crusade and put a third referendum on the ballot to reverse the City Council's lawful action.

This back and forth could have continued without end, leaving the city in an untenable governing position. It is the very reason why our Founding Fathers made it unconstitutional, so that any change must be well-debated, requiring two legislative sessions and three-quarters of the states to act.

No single individual or group should change the governmental balance of power by funding a one-sided media blitz over a few months. This is 2008 and the world has changed dramatically. Thirty-seven council members and the mayor must leave in 2009 during our worst fiscal crisis in memory.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is recognized as a fiscal expert with both the private and governmental expertise to steer the city's helm. If we had to make to order such a leader, could we pick a better one than Bloomberg?

As far as the Council is concerned, to expect at least 37 new members, literally as soon as elected, to adjust to this financial crisis and protect key services and quality of life in a period of budget contraction is inane.

They would not even have an office or staff until a new speaker is elected. This is why I oppose a fixed term for any legislator. Experience and seniority is an absolute necessity in any legislature, while also serving to help the executive branch through any crisis. Think of the late U.S. Rep. Tip O'Neill (D-Mass.) and U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), both of whom had remarkable accomplishments at the end of their careers.

While neither Bloomberg nor any council member is guaranteed reelection, at least the voters have a choice, which is as it should be. Further, the mayor said he will empanel a charter revision commission to examine term limits in full view of the public and bring the issue back to the voters so they may decide. That sounds fair and democratic.

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