To the editor,
In response to your editorial this week (“Yassky’s integrity terminated,” online edition, Oct. 30; print edition, Nov. 1), I wanted you to read the full text of a letter I sent to my constituents after the term-limit vote on Oct. 23.
I am sure you know by now that the City Council voted last week to approve Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to lengthen the term limit for City officeholders from eight years to 12 years.
I want you to know that after a great deal of thought, I chose to support the mayor’s proposal. This was the most difficult decision I have faced in the Council — more than congestion pricing, the garbage plan, or the post–9-11 tax increase — and I want to explain why I believe it was the right choice.
Like many people, my initial reaction to the mayor’s proposal was outrage. While I have always held that the eight-year term limit was bad policy, it was a policy put in place by referendum and the fairest way to change it was by a subsequent referendum. I was saddened by the mayor’s eagerness to bypass the voters, and I strongly disagreed with his assertion that a referendum was not feasible. Most important, I knew that a Council vote to change term limits would confirm many people’s most cynical suspicions about politics and politicians.
Following the mayor’s announcement, I advocated both publicly and privately, to the mayor, [Council] speaker [Christine Quinn] and my colleagues in the Council, that we should put the term limits question before the voters. I argued to the mayor directly that he was making a mistake, and that he and the Council could not afford to undermine our moral legitimacy at precisely the time when we will be asking New Yorkers to sacrifice for the greater good.
As the vote neared, it became increasingly clear to me that the mayor would not relent, and I focused intently on the choice before me. I had dozens — probably hundreds — of conversations with friends and constituents, and heard very strong feelings on both sides of the issue. Many people were appalled that the Council would even consider overturning a referendum, and many — I was surprised by how many — said simply: “I want to keep Mayor Bloomberg.”
These conversations had a deep impact on my thinking. While I have worked well with the mayor and I hold his administration in high regard, I certainly don’t believe he is the only person capable of leading the City over the coming years. But I do know that we are in a period of extraordinary challenge, and that voters may well value stability and experience in the city government. I became convinced that the right choice at this point in time was to leave open for voters the option of choosing to continue the Bloomberg Administration next November.
Even so, I pressed the referendum argument to the very end. Over the mayor’s objections, I introduced an amendment to the term limits bill that would have put the issue before the voters in a special election early next year. Many of my colleagues supported the amendment, and it was vigorously debated on the floor — but it lost narrowly. That left the stark choice: As much as I was loath to override the expressed will of the voters, I was unwilling to leave in place a term-limits policy which I believe is bad in general and especially at this time.
Finally, I know that some on the other side of this debate have accused Councilmembers of acting out of self-interest in voting to change term limits. For my part, I can say unequivocally that I saw no personal benefit in the mayor’s proposal. As you know, I have been planning to run for City Comptroller next year, and have felt confident about my prospects for success. That campaign may now be foreclosed, as the current Comptroller is eligible to run for re-election.
I knew that many supporters would disagree with this vote. In making my final decision, one particular conversation stuck with me. In the supermarket, a few days before the vote, an older man approached me, told me he had voted for me, and told me he didn’t like the term limits extension. But then he said: “Whatever you do, I trust you to do the right thing.” I do believe that my constituents want me to look diligently at the issues before me and follow my best judgment about what is right for our city and for our community.
As difficult as this vote was, I know that still more wrenching choices lie ahead: closing hospitals versus fewer teachers, raising taxes versus cutting cops. On all of these issues, as with the term limits vote, I will take my responsibilities as a City Councilmember with the utmost seriousness, and will work as hard as I possibly can to serve in the best interests of the people I represent.
David Yassky, Brooklyn Heights
©2008 Community News Group
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