Sobering News On Term Limits Is Given in Council

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The New York Sun

A secret poll commissioned by the City Council speaker as part of an effort to explore overturning term limits on council members indicates that the politicians will have an uphill battle to hold on to their jobs.

The poll showed that only four in 10 New Yorkers favor having the council members stay longer than the current limit of two four-year terms.

Following months of speculation, the lawmakers were briefed yesterday on the results of a survey of 700 registered voters that the council speaker, Christine Quinn, commissioned in the spring. A consulting firm, Kiley & Co., asked voters whether they supported an extension of term limits: 40% responded that they did, while 57% were opposed, according to several council sources with knowledge of the poll results. The speaker paid for the poll with campaign funds.


The results appeared to confirm that Ms. Quinn and her colleagues would be igniting a political firestorm if they decided to take on term limits. Mayor Bloomberg is opposed to changing the law, and the businessman who originally championed the term limits initiative, Ronald Lauder, has vowed to fight an effort to overturn the law.

In an indication of how delicate the issue is for the speaker, Ms. Quinn explicitly instructed council members not to divulge the results of the poll. Those lawmakers who confirmed the outcome last night did so only on the condition of anonymity.

“The results were mixed,” is all Ms. Quinn would tell reporters after leaving a conference room at Pace University, where a pollster from Kiley & Company briefed lawmakers.


The speaker said no decisions have been made about whether the council will mount a push against the present limit.

“We’re at the very beginning of this discussion,” Ms. Quinn said. “The discussion is whether we will even take up the matter, and if we were to take it up, how we would take it up, and what formulation.”

While the council could seek to repeal term limits altogether, the most likely option would be to add a single, four-year term, either by passing legislation or calling for a citywide referendum.


A vast majority of the 51 members oppose the current limit, but there is little consensus on how best to proceed. Opponents of changing the law routinely cite the fact that New Yorkers have already voted in favor of term limits, twice, in 1993 and 1996.

“Why run into a brick wall again and again and again?” the council’s Republican leader, James Oddo of Staten Island, said. Mr. Oddo said he opposes term limits because they restrict the power of the council speaker relative to the mayor. But that argument, he said, does not persuade voters. “I think they’ve made up their mind,” he said. “They’re not going to change.”

Supporters of changing the law argue that eight years is not enough time to effectively legislate. With two-thirds of council members set to leave office after 2009, critics say term limits erodes the institutional memory of the council.

“I think the right of the voter is basically abducted by term limits,” a council member of Queens, Joseph Addabbo Jr., said. Although incumbents have historically had little trouble getting reelected, Mr. Addabbo said each election gave voters a new opportunity to choose someone else.

Other lawmakers dismissed the suggestion made by Mr. Bloomberg over the summer that voters should not be bothered with another referendum on the issue. “I don’t think we should ever shy away from having a dialogue with the people we represent,” a council member of Queens, Eric Gioia, said.

A Brooklyn council member, Kendall Stewart, said voters were “disenfranchised” in the earlier referenda because Mr. Lauder spent so much money, about $4 million, in support of term limits.

It remained unclear exactly how much support there was for an aggressive, and likely unpopular, effort to change the law.

“We don’t know what we’re going to end up doing,” Ms. Quinn said, adding that there was no timetable for a decision.

The executive director of the government watchdog Citizen Union, Dick Dadey, said his group opposes unilateral action by the council, but it supports the creation of a charter revision commission to examine the issue. “Should the council act unilaterally, it will result in the city not having the discussion it should have about term limits,” Mr. Dadey said.

The New York Sun

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