Mayor Bloomberg is signing the term limits bill this morning, but first he has to pretend to listen to people. A parade of witnesses is being leaked into the tiny City Hall hearing room. Several dozen have already spoken to the issue, and others are still speaking at this writing, in an orderly and useless fashion.
Former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. rattled off term limits negatives, including the fact that “one man” had put over a “one-sided” term limits referendum “paid for out of his own pockets” — clearly referring to Ron Lauder, who is of course now the Mayor’s ally on term limits.
Then came four of the five Borough Presidents. Staten Island’s Jim Molinaro said that one term was only enough time to learn “where the men’s room is.” Brooklyn’s Marty Markowitz personally assured us that “our democracy will be preserved” and Bloomberg “deserves the right to run for reelection.” Also that this is a “very modest change,” of which he is very proud.
Queens Beep Helen Marshall said “experience” three hundred times. Manhattan’s Scott Stringer agreed that one term is not enough, term limits is “madness,” and referred to the protesters locked outside as “democracy at its best.”
Superannuated Councilmember Thomas White offered to “explain” that he voted for term limits, first, because he had been term-limited before and he didn’t like it, and second, because it’s a “civil rights” issue. He pointed out that “you don’t have term limits in the Congress,” or the State Senate and Assembly, which some might find a curious argument. He also claimed he didn’t want to be a “career politician,” though he has apparently been in office since the First World War.
Then came some opponents:
Councilmember Tish James, hoarse and with her hair down, asked, “Mr. Mayor, what will be your legacy?” and directed his attention to the “mutterings and murmurings” of the citizens. She said she’d been to Pennsylania, presumably to canvass for Obama, and felt “electricity” because voters “have that power in their hands.” She said that “cynicism abounds” throughout the city as does the feeling that City Hall is nothing but an “auction block.” Bill de Blasio told the Mayor the problem is “not that people don’t respect you and the work you’re done,” but that they feel they’re “not being heard.” He pushed for a referendum. Also said “people feel that something unprecedented has happened… a sense of something being taken away.”
Congressman Anthony Wiener pointed out the protesters who were “lined up” outside, and said the debate was not about term limits but about “the very foundation of how we do things here in New York City.” He said that as referenda are rare, their results should be respected, and said it was “hard not to be embarrassed” by how this overturn was pushed through, including hearings in “the smallest hearing room” in the city.
Private, or semi-private, citizens also turned up. Someone we think was Danny A. Shapiro gave the Mayor an earful, criticizing his governance as well as his bill, and ending “I am angry and so disappointed in you.” Another fellow said in a heavy Spanish accent that the term limits overturn made New York look “worse than a banana republic.” A black former nun in a turban asked, “in the spirit of my ancestors… do not disrespect me or embarrass me.” She added, “I knew you as Uncle Mike” and “you sent several letters to my home” — campaign mailers, perhaps, but we’ll look into it.
Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who doesn’t like term limits, nonetheless thinks we should should not “extend it or change it by an undemocratic method.” Says she’s been telling her constituents that “their vote counts” and this kind of makes her look like a liar. Some older gentlemen with an Archie Bunker accent steps up to support the Mayor, both as candidate and on term limits. Gary LaBarbera, union man, says we’re in “unprecedented” times and need the Mayor back in. So does an NYPD Sergeant. An elderly man, seated, read off the Iraq casualties to date, and said these people died because the government was unresponsive to its citizens. “I’m not afraid of our city should there be a new mayor,” he says, because Bloomberg has been a great mayor, and he hopes Bloomberg would “go on to new and greater challenges, Mr. Mayor — let go.”
Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern called this “the least public public hearing I’ve ever attended” because most of the prospective attendees were stuck outside and were being let in one by one, “as if we were prisoners who had to be searched.” He said he liked the Mayor, but “even a good mayor… cannot supercede or contravene democracy. Democracy is more important than any person…”
Yeah, well, not any more, Park Boy. The line keeps moving, and if you mosey on over to City Hall now you may find they’re still at it. We will note that Rachel Trachtenberg repeated her earlier testimony, and a guy with a headband who said he’d just come from the Marathon told the Mayor he wished he had the same kind of power to evade limitations that the Mayor had — “You don’t even know,” he added, “We’d have a great time.” Also Jimmy McMillan of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party asserted that Rent was, indeed, too damn high, and dramatically turned his back on the Mayor because “you turned your back on us.” (He also added that the Mayor is “a good looking man, you’re a rich man,” and surely could find “something else to do.”)
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 3, 2008