Limiting principle

Some positive developments today in the battle to stop New York City officeholders from using a crisis for a self-serving increase in their power.

  • City Council Member David Weprin announced plans to introduce a bill tomorrow requiring that any change in term limits be chosen by referendum, and two other council members, Letitia James and Bill de Blasio, announced their plans to pass a bill scheduling such a referendum for next spring. If you're a New York City resident reading this, please contact your council member by phone or e-mail as soon as you read this to kindly suggest that they support these bills. These bills, and the one extending term limits, are expected to come up for a vote tomorrow (Update: I am wrong. Bills are being introduced today (Tuesday) but probably not being voted on for two weeks.). The e-mail I sent my council member is at the end of the post, if you just want to copy and paste it. If you don't know who your council member is, click this link and enter your address to find out.

  • Friend-of-the-blog Scott Paul has a very good post up at The Washington Note making a slightly different argument against the removal of term limits than I've made at this blog. He talks about it in terms of the error of removing checks on government power in response to a perceived crisis.

  • Ronald Lauder, who had sponsored the previous two term limit bills and who it appeared had been co-opted by Mayor Bloomberg, stated that he would only support a temporary change to term limits to deal with the crisis, and would oppose a permanent shift to term limits which allows a maximum of twelve consecutive years in office. The permanent shift is what is currently being proposed.

  • The same article which notes Lauder's current position also mentions, off-handedly, that Mayor Bloomberg began strategizing a run for a third term earlier this year. This was fairly obvious from the rumblings about the idea which have been going around for months, but it also means that he is simply using the financial crisis as an excuse to do something he wanted to do. Shouldn't more people be focusing on that?

  • There is now a web presence for a group opposing the expansion of term limits. The group is Bigger Than One, a nicely evocative title and the site has useful information about the current position of each City Council member on term limits. I have some quibbles with the site's design, which doesn't facilitate the formation of a community of activists in opposition, and lack of transparency, but they're not important enough to discuss now.

  • My e-mail to Council Member Sara Gonzalez:
    Dear Council Member Gonzalez-

    I'm writing as a constituent to express my hopes that you vote against any bill which extends term limits for sitting officeholders. One lesson, both from the past eight years of disastrous federal government and from much of political history more generally, is that removing structural checks on the powers of any government official because of a crisis is a dangerous step, and should only be taken in the most dire necessity. While the current economic situation is very serious, there is no reason to think it has reached that level. If you feel you must take some step towards removing term limits for current officeholders, please your co-Council Members Letitia Williams and Bill de Blasio in sponsoring the bills that would put that decision before all of the voters as a referendum.

    Thank you for your time and best wishes-

    [Name goes here]

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