Let’s Limit the Term-Limit Debate

Let’s Limit the Term-Limit Debate


Councilman Jumaane Williams during a meeting at City Hall.

Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Horror film devotees are well acquainted with Chucky, the doll possessed by an evil spirit that refuses to die. It’s kind of like the issue of easing term limits for New York City elected officials. Just when you thought it would be seen no more, it springs once again to life. And now it’s b-a-a-ack.

A bill introduced in the City Council last week would extend the shelf life of that body’s members by giving each of them an opportunity for a third consecutive four-year term. That’s one more cycle than allowed by the present law, the same two-term limit that applies to the three citywide elected officials — mayor, public advocate and city comptroller — and to the five borough presidents.

The argument for giving lawmakers on the City Council more time in office than the others lies in the tremendous power that New York mayors wield. Supporters of the bill say that a Council with longer terms for its members could be more effective at providing the checks and balances that are part of this country’s founding principles.

That’s the theory, anyway. The reality is that the Council has far more often been the helpmate of mayors than their foe.

All eight men angling to be the next Council speaker (not a woman is in contention) support the concept of three terms. Most, however, have scant appetite to fight for it now. And one of them who is eager, Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr. of Brooklyn, offers an argument that’s hardly compelling. Some good people won’t run for the Council if limited to eight years, he says, because it takes 10 years to be fully vested in the city’s pension program. So much for the notion of public service as its own reward.

There’s no reason to doubt the sincerity of one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn, who casts it as a good-government measure, one he can’t personally benefit from because he is already about to begin a third term thanks to a quirk in the existing law. More important, any revision would have to be put before the voters in a referendum.

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