New York Civic: Two Terms Good, Three Terms Bad BY Henry J. Stern

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Stern_HenryJ Charter Commission Weighs Permission for Incumbents to Run for an Extra Term, Ignoring Public Referenda

August 20, 2010

The Charter Revision Commission will meet Monday evening to decide what amendments to the City Charter will be placed on the ballot in November. The Commission's recommendations are generally beneficial and should not arouse much public controversy, except from diehards who want the political process to be as arduous and arcane as possible.

The Commission was appointed in March 2010. Its primary mission was to settle the issue of term limits, which had been approved by the voters in 1993 and 1996. In September 2008, when it was too late for anyone else place a charter amendment on the ballot, Mayor Bloomberg proposed, and the Council approved, a charter amendment overriding the public referenda in the '90s, and providing third-term eligibility for themselves. To make amends for this last-minute power play, the mayor promised to appoint a charter commission in 2010, with the expectation that the term limits issue would be resolved.

The Commission did agree to send the issue to a referendum in November, but unfortunately there is a catch. The issue of when term limits as approved by the public will go into effect is in dispute. Logically, the effective date should be the next election for councilmembers, scheduled for 2013. In a strong editorial today, the Daily News made this point convincingly.

However, an effort is being made to 'grandfather' only those councilmembers elected in 2005, so that they will be able to remain in office until 2017, even if the public votes in 2010 for a two-term limit.

That would be an enormous injustice. Members of the classes of 2001 and 2005 stretched the law to its limit by voting to extend their own eligibility. They found a loophole in the Charter and drove right through it. Now, if the public votes for a two-term limit, it would mean they must leave in 2013, as the Charter originally provided. As a result, they are seeking to create yet another loophole by grandfathering themselves into third-term eligibility. This would again frustrate the will of the voters if they support a limit of two terms, with which polls indicate that 71 per cent of the voters agree.

If the Commission and its members seek to retain their good reputations for integrity and independence, they cannot allow this scheme to succeed. When the public repeatedly says, in its Orwellian mode, "Two terms good, three terms bad" the handful of councilmembers who created the problem in the first place should not be allowed to concoct another scheme to deny the public the right to vote on whether they should have third-term eligibility. The case is worse than a parricide who demands mercy as an orphan. Here the officials are trying to prohibit the jurors from even considering whether they should be allowed to profit from their misdeeds.

Now is the time to close the door on this unfortunate chapter of New York political history. To allow the situation to carry over to 2017 would invite another referendum next year on the same issue. That would denigrate and obscure the other serious matters on which the Charter commission is charged with deliberating.

Close the barn door. Conclude this matter in 2011. Let the Charter Revision Commission go forward with constructive study of municipal issues, of which there are many, rather than stooping to reward the handful of self-serving councilmembers whose desire to linger generated this problem.

GEESE: Latest census, taken by Anne-Katrin Titze, shows 114 geese, nine swans and numerous ducks on the Prospect Park Lake. The swans are members of two families, who are not always friendly to each other. The population consists of four adults and five cygnets. On July 7, Federal agents removed and executed about 300 geese, but the lake is being repopulated as new Canada geese arrive. They are apparently unaware of the fate that befell their brothers and sisters last month.

TREES: The Pelham Parkway 87, originally marked for destruction for highway construction, have received a temporary reprieve after their cause was embraced by local newspapers, Regis Philbin of ABC, who grew up near Pelham Parkway, and community  activists. The city will review its design to protect both trees and cars.

A greater threat has arisen to the trees on Pelham Parkway South. The proposed reconstruction of a sewer threatens the roots of mature trees on the sidewalk and in the park. The plans should be reviewed by the community and the city agencies involved, Design & Construction and Environmental Protection, before any excavation is begun which endangers the root system of nearby trees. This is entirely possible to do through a process called in situ construction.

ESPADA: No report is complete without an update on the actions of Senator Pedro Espada, who initiated the June 2009 coup which tied up the Senate for a month, along with his sidekick, now former Senator Hiram Monserrate.

Espada is involved in a dispute with a clothier who sold him six custom-made suits, for which the Senator refuses to pay. The scandal was broken by Tom Robbins, who described the affair in absorbing detail, on pages 10 and 11 in the August 18 Village Voice, and reported on p2 of yesterday's Daily News by Tina Moore and Kenneth Lovett.

The unpaid bill is said to be $7200. Sales tax is 8.875% in the Bronx, which he represents, and 7.4% in Mamaroneck, where he is said to live. On a purchase for that sum, the difference is sales tax would be $106.20, and the question arises as to which address he used.

On the other hand, if you're not going to pay the bill, why be concerned about the sales tax?

Henry J. Stern writes as StarQuest. Direct email to him at Peruse Mr. Stern’s writing at New York Civic.

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eHeziNew York Civic: Two Terms Good, Three Terms Bad BY Henry J. Stern

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