Term-limit law approved; Lawsuit filed

October 24, 2008 5:45:37 AM PDT
The City Council has passed the bill on term limits, clearing the way for Mayor Bloomberg to run for a third term in 2009. The council vote of 29-22 was among the 51-member body's closest votes in recent history.


    The law needed 26 votes to pass.

    The council debate began with an impassioned plea from Council Speaker Christine Quinn. She spoke directly to opponents who called the vote "a sham" and "a perversion of democracy."

    "Opponents of this bill may categorize it as some sort of backroom deal. That is, quite frankly, ludicrous," Quinn said.

    Before the vote on term limits, council considered an amendment to let voters decide.

    "My feeling on this is bring the people in. Open up the doors to government and truly be the reformers," Councilman Vincent Ignizio argued.

    One councilmember argued if Hugo Chavez can accept the will of Venezuelans, why can't Michael Bloomberg listen to New Yorkers?

    "Mayor Bloomberg, be like Hugo and let the people decide," Charles Barron said.

    The last-minute proposal was defeated. It would have begun the process to hold a special election next year.

    Bloomberg had argued that times are so tough and the economy so precarious that New York needs his steady hand for another term.

    New Yorkers packed council chambers for the debate and vote. Many of them who voted for term limits twice before in the 1990s. They filled the balcony, but most of them said apart from their signs reading "vote no" and "yes we can," their voices were not heard.

    "I'm a lawyer. I'm a sportsman. I play sports. You don't change the rules in the middle of the game. It's unsportsman like," Erik Jacobs said.

    One voter from Staten Island waited eight-and-a-half hours to testify at last week's hearings on term limits, but never got the chance. She did not like what she saw on Thursday.

    "There are people who came here whose parents were immigrants that came for a right to have a say in their government. When we vote, we believe we have that say. What they are doing today is telling us that our vote does not count," Gloria Smith said.

    After the vote, Bloomberg issued a statement praising the council for acting to "give the people of New York a fuller choice" next year. He said the city must turn its focus to softening the fallout from the financial downturn.

    He was heckled when he departed City Hall Thursday evening, exiting its front door into a line of departing spectators to the vote.

    Some shouted that he was a "sellout."

    "You're disgusting!" others yelled.

    The mayor's face was red as he silently got into his car, surrounded by aides and his security detail.

    Legally, city council can extend term limits without voter approval, but opponents intend to continue their fight. A group of teachers has already sued the mayor and City Council in federal court in Manhattan, contending that it was unconstitutional to change term limits without letting voters decide the issue.

    Additional litigation to block the extension is expected to be brought by former deputy mayor to Rudy Giuliani, Randy Mastro, and by Richard Emery, a civil rights lawyer.

    The City Council's change to the term-limits law must still be signed by the mayor. It then must be reviewed by the Department of Justice, under terms of the Voting Rights Act, which aims to prevent discrimination in election rules or practices. The DOJ has up to 60 days to make a determination once it receives the details of the change.

    STORY BY: Dave Evans, Stacey Sager and Bob Monek