citizens union position statement

For Immediate Release
October 23, 2008

Media Contacts:
Dick Dadey: (917) 709-2896
Sara Stuart: (212) 227-0342 x22
(917) 566-1462

Statement by Dick Dadey, Executive Director

Citizens Union Disappointed
Over Council Term Limits Vote

Today is an unfortunate day for New Yorkers, because political self-interest won out over the will of the voters. New Yorkers needed a debate on whether term limits should be changed, not how.

Today's divided vote shows how necessary it was for the Mayor and the Council to rush through a vote out of concern that support was dropping quickly for this end-run around the past votes of New Yorkers in support of term limits.

Twenty-nine members of the City Council sadly voted to overturn what voters had twice enacted - two, four-year terms for elected officials - without seeing the need for the issue to be returned to the voters for a final judgment. This rushed vote on such a critical issue of how our government should function will forever be remembered as one of New York's darkest days.

Citizens Union acknowledges that there were votes of conscience today, on both sides of the issue, but there were also convoluted and changing votes of political expediency, which reflects poorly on those whose votes changed or resulted in them being on both sides of the issue.

This Council vote, though likely legal, reflects a complete disregard for the voice of the people of this City as twice expressed via voter referendums in 1993 and, again, in 1996. The process for handling this crucial and controversial issue - in a span of a mere three weeks - sets a harmful precedent for how our government should operate on critically important issues. There was no need to rush through a vote other than to secure support from an obviously divided City Council. While Citizens Union has historically been opposed to term limits, the hastily arranged process under which the Council passed this bill was not only flawed from the inception, but also was one that gave the public no meaningful role in changing such a fundamental component of our democratic process.

The twenty-nine Councilmembers who supported the extension of term limits through legislative action, instead of through a vote of the people, do not hold sacrosanct - as Citizens Union does - the will of the voters. Citizens Union applauds the commitment of those Councilmembers who were dedicated to giving the voters an opportunity to play a role in this important conversation, including those Councilmembers who broke with traditional Council protocol to propose an amendment to the bill on the floor during the Council's Stated Meeting and then when that failed, also voted to oppose the bill.

What is sadly not being understood when politicians argue that the voters will have a chance to vote on term limits when they cast their ballot in 2009 is that there are two separate questions that the voters are being asked to consider with just one vote. First, do they support their elected official's decision with respect to extending term limits? Second, do they support their elected official for another term in office? The voters should not be required to answer both of those questions in one vote.

We can only hope that the expected cynicism that will surely result from this process and this vote will energize New Yorkers to become more involved in the electoral process in the fall of 2009, and not less.

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 •