citizens union position statement

For Immediate Release
September 5, 2008

Media Contacts:
Dick Dadey, 917-709-2896
Sara Stuart, (212) 227-0342 x22

Citizens Union Reaffirms Its Opposition
To City Council Action on Term Limits
Voter Approval is Needed for Any Change in Term Limits

Though Citizens Union of the City of New York opposed the enactment of term limits in the 1990s, it today reaffirms its stated position that the Mayor and the City Council should not enact legislation altering the city's term limits. To do so would overturn the twice expressed views of the voters who enacted them.

Citizens Union agrees that there may be compelling reasons to permit elected officials to seek three, four-year terms. However, the Mayor and the Council should not make this change without the benefit of public input and citizen approval. Such action would violate the principles of good government and undermine the practice of municipal democracy that Citizens Union supports. The voters enacted term limits and only the voters should be able to amend them.

Any attempt to change these limits by legislation would undermine New Yorkers confidence in government by making it appear that our elected officials are acting in their own self-interest rather than in the public interest. The expressed will of the citizens rises above all other considerations.

When term limits were first enacted, it was based on a theory that government could possibly function better if seats were opened up so that new faces could serve as elected officials. New York now has the benefit of experience, but has not analyzed the experiment.

Two and a half years ago, Citizens Union called for a robust public discussion about term limits. It urged that a charter revision commission be created to examine this issue, look at the impact term limits have had on city government, and engage the citizens of New York in determining whether changes were needed. Our recommendation was ignored. The window of opportunity to do anything about them for those whose terms expire in 2009 has closed. We hope that past declarative statements by the Mayor and the City Council Speaker about not amending the current term limits law through legislation will stand.

Citizens Union instead requests again that a City Charter Revision Commission undertake a thorough review of the issue and consider the following aspects to the issue of term limits:

  1. Examine whether city government might function better if term limits were extended to three, four-year terms.
  2. Assess whether different terms should be established for City Council, the Borough Presidents, the Comptroller, the Public Advocate, and the Mayor. Examine whether the city would be better served and the city's legislative body strengthened if City Council members held office for twelve consecutive years and the other elected offices only eight.
  3. Determine whether new terms in office should be staggered so that only a third of the Council seats are open to election every two years to avoid a near total turnover in the Council at the end of the final permitted term.
  4. Any change to the term limits law, by definition, should not allow any current elected officials, whose second four-year terms expire in 2009, to run for re-election, because it is too late in the process to consider allowing them to do so.
  5. That any possible popular vote on the issue of term limits be held at a regularly scheduled election, following a period of full-fledged public debate.

Given our initial opposition to term limits, Citizens Union may well consider changes to the term limits law once a thorough and thoughtful public discussion is held, but it holds as sacrosanct the will of the voters on this subject until they change their minds.

Citizens Union of the City of New York, a nonpartisan force for good government for more than 100 years, works to inform and engage New Yorkers, to ensure local and state government values its citizens, addresses critical issues, and operates in a fair, open, and fiscally sound manner.

299 Broadway, Suite 700, New York, NY 10007-1976
Peter J. W. Sherwin, Chair • Dick Dadey, Executive Director •