Councilmembers Like Ending Terms Limits, a Good Reason to Keep Them


As we’ve noted, some New York politicians have come out against suspending local term limits, an idea Mayor Bloomberg has floated. Maybe they’re speaking from principle, or maybe they just don’t want to get to get on the wrong side of a discontented electorate during a “change” campaign; even Charlie Rangel has said it’s “a hell of a time” to tell voters you don’t want to relinquish your office. And some of them are running for Mayor and would prefer not to face the popular incumbent.

But the hearts of City Councilmembers are in favor of overturn, or so a New York Times survey suggests: a majority of the 38 Members to which they spoke (out of 51 serving) are at least “open to” doing away with the limits.

The Times notes that the legal limit for individual contributions to a City Councilmember is $2,750 — far lower than for other, citywide offices. So Members who are running for higher office and have amassed larger contributions would, if convinced by the repeal of term limits to abandon their new campaigns, have to give part of some larger donations back before running for their own seats again.

We don’t see much of a problem there, nor with the recalibration of spending limits that would force some office-jumpers to scale back on campaigning if they suddenly retreated to their current seats. But we find the whole discussion of the impact of term limits, or their absence, on current officeholders a little beside the point. Did anyone think to consider their impact on the electorate?

Of course not, because there hasn’t been much of one. There are very few indispensable men or women in New York politics; who can say convincingly, oh, if only so-and-so hadn’t been forced out by term limits? It’s hard to imagine the corruption and malfeasance of our leaders lessened by repeal.

So the only factor worthy of serious consideration is schadenfreude: which state of affairs gives the most politicians the hardest possible time? That an end to term limits might discourage some climbers is nice, but it’s not quite as good as forcing the little Caesars of the Council to consider another line of work after a couple of terms. Their enthusiasm for repeal rests our case.

Term limits are a fad cynically employed to give voters the impression that their representatives are citizen legislators instead of professional politicians. But if they give such trouble to our politicians that they want to get rid of them, we see no reason to offer them relief. It’s not like this was much of a democracy to begin with.

Image adapted from a Flickr photo by cave canem under a Creative Commons license.