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THWARTING THE NEW YORK VOTER GOVERNING City Council members once again seek to extend term limits — despite three popular referendums over a quarter-century that curtailed how long officeholders can serve BY DOUGLAS FEIDEN
From pizza to policing and from bagels to bike lanes, New Yorkers have been known to disagree on, well, just about everything.
COUNCIL CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 interests, contractors, trade associations, members of Congress and the mayor all have inﬂuence over the process. And the Democratic county bosses from Queens and the Bronx typically work in tandem to increase their leverage. Still, it is the incoming class of Council members who will actually cast the ballots. Hence, the courtship of Rose, who in 2009 became the ﬁrst AfricanAmerican to win elected office on Staten Island. Johnson is not alone: • One of his chief rivals, Coun-
But there’s one issue on which they seem in uniform agreement: Term limits for politicians. They support them. Very strongly. And they don’t want elected officials to mess with them. The City Council, it appears, never got the memo. All eight of the candidates running for the City Council speaker post initially signaled in a November 20 debate that they’d support an extension of term limits for members to three 4-year terms from the current two-terms-and-out limit.
Then on November 30, two would-be speakers — Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, whose district includes Washington Heights and Inwood, and Brooklyn-based Jumaane Williams — introduced a bill to amend the term-limits law to three consecutive terms if voters back it in a referendum. “Members should be able to move bills forward, and complete their legislative work, and leave an important legacy,” Rodriquez said in an interview. “That can take three terms.” There’s just one problem: The
cil Member Mark Levine, who represents parts of the Upper West Side, Manhattan Valley, Morningside Heights, Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights, also contributed the maximum amount, giving $2,750 to Debi Rose 2017 on January 10, campaign records show. Levine wasn’t reachable by deadline. • Another opponent, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, whose uptown district includes Washington Heights, Inwood and Marble Hill, pumped $2,000 from his political committee, Ydanis for New York, into Rose’s campaign treasury on July 7, the ﬁlings show. “Look, when you’re running for citywide office, you
go around the city, you have conversations with your colleagues, and you ask how you can be helpful in different ways,” Rodriguez explained in a phone interview. “And if they need you to be there, or to make a donation, you try to help when you can — but not with the expectation that the donation would translate into support for your campaign,” he added. Rodriguez noted that in 2013, when Rose was running for reelection to her second term, he went to her district to help. “I wasn’t running for speaker four years ago, but I went from Washington Heights to Staten Island to help Debi win her election,” he said. And he added, “Corey was there that same day, and he wasn’t running for speaker back then either!” Nonetheless, money does talk in the speaker’s race: “The mercantile nature of politics has tended to work,” said Democratic political strategist Hank Sheinkopf, who has worked on the campaigns of Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer and Mike Bloomberg. “There is an expectation that those kindness will be returned in kind.” Another key dynamic in the race is independence, or the perceived lack of same, from de Blasio, who despite his landslide triumph becomes a termlimited lame duck the moment he’s sworn into office for a second term on January 1. “Corey has always been a bulldog, he is now presenting a more statesmanlike persona, and many members feel that he could stand up to the mayor when the Council disagrees with him,” said Democratic po-
will of the voters on the issue has been made abundantly clear three times over the past 24 years. In the first referendum in 1993, 59 percent of New Yorkers voted to enact a two-term limit for elected officials. Then in 1996, in a second referendum, 54 percent voted to afﬁrm it in the face of efforts by office-holders to invalidate the city law. By 2008, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who wanted to keep his job, prevailed on Council members — without a public ballot, in a hugely
controversial maneuver — to extend term limits for themselves and citywide officials, the mayor included. That power grab was repudiated by voters in 2010 in yet another referendum, and the prior two-term limit was restored by a lopsided 74 percent margin. “Voters have spoken thrice on term limits,” said Upper East Side Council Member Ben Kallos in an interview. “I believe in term limits.” Pols eager to extend the limits are “wrong,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said bluntly.
City Council Member Corey Johnson left his Chelsea political base to campaign with fellow Council Member Debi Rose on Staten Island in June. Johnson, who is running for City Council speaker, donated $2,750 to her reelection campaign and hit the stump on her behalf. Photo: Twitter/@CoreyinNYC
litical consultant George Arzt, who served as Mayor Ed Koch’s third-term press secretary in the late 1980s. “Levine is someone lots of people like and think they can deal with, someone who will listen to them, someone who is ﬂuent in Spanish. But there are some members who don’t believe that Levine can stand up to the mayor,” he added. No matter who wins the speakership, the city’s political apparatus — its pols, clubhouses and Democratic county organizations — have already proﬁted handsomely:
• Council Member-Elect Keith Powers. The newly elected District 4 member, who won the open seat on the East Side being vacated by outgoing incumbent Dan Garodnick, received the maximum $2,750 donation from both Johnson and Levine. • Council Member Mathieu Eugene of Brooklyn. The city’s first Haitian-born Council member scored a trifecta from the Manhattan candidates, pulling down $2,750 from Johnson and Levine respectively, and another $2,000 from Rodriguez, campaign ﬁlings show. He won reelection.
He accused the speaker candidates of “pandering,” adding, “The people have spoken, and they couldn’t have been clearer.” Since he’d have to sign any bill, the Council would have to overcome a likely veto before it could advance. The message may be slowly sinking in. In another debate on December 1, only three speaker candidates indicated strong support for the measure. The others signaled “philosophical support” for a third term, but backed away from endorsing the actual legislation.
• The Democratic Organization of Queens County. An oldline and still muscular political machine in Forest Hills, it took in $2,900 from Levine, $2,550 from Johnson and $2,250 from Rodriguez. Levine also ponied up $2,950 for the Kings County Democratic Committee on Court Street in downtown Brooklyn and another $2,650 for the Bronx Democratic County Committee. • The Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club in the Bronx received $1,000 and $500 from Levine and Johnson respectively. Need further proof that the old outer-borough clubhouses still matter to the vote-seeking politicians of Manhattan? Johnson kicked in $250 to the Powhatan and Pocahontas Regular Democratic Club in Astoria, Queens, which was founded in 1901 and never changed its Tammany-era name. • Council Member Elizabeth Crowley of Queens. The daughter of two former Council members, and a cousin of U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley, the Democratic county leader in Queens, her support was also sought by the trio of Manhattan contenders. Johnson and Levine gave her $2,750 apiece and Rodriguez contributed $2,000. Their money did no good. The Crowley dynasty suffered an unexpected setback. She was unseated by Republican challenger Robert Holden, who squeaked out a 133-vote upset. Her last day in the City Council is December 31. She won’t be able to vote for any of them. Douglas Feiden: invreporter@ strausnews.com