You have to at least give Borough President Markowitz some credit for saying what’s on his mind.
Like every elected official, Markowitz doesn’t want to leave office. But while other careerist pols are using cagey asides to couch their contempt for the city’s term-limits law, Markowitz is openly, proudly, dismissive of the two voter-approved referenda that created the city’s current two-term limit for members of the Council, the borough presidents, public advocate, comptroller and mayor.
“Clearly I’m against term limits. I think the electorate made a terrible mistake,” Markowitz said on Monday at a gathering of all five borough presidents at his beloved Junior’s restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn. “I think it’s bad government.”
There is, indeed, a problem with term limits. In the name of creating a stronger, more-vibrant democracy, such limits deprive voters of one of their very reasonable options: sending a qualified, experienced public servant back for another term.
Both referenda — in 1993 and 1996 — included an unanticipated flaw: because term limits are not staggered, virtually all of the city’s elected officials — some of them actually worthy of re-election — are forced out of office all at once, leaving a potential void of leadership.
But whatever its flaws, the people have spoken: voters have shown, twice, that they want term limits — and that’s good enough for us.
We believe it is morally wrong for current officeholders to circumvent the clearly stated wishes of their constituents — especially when they would gain a direct personal benefit by doing so.
We might support Markowitz’s call for changing term limits if his power grab were not so blatant; a slight change in the current situation — like a three-term limit, perhaps — would be a reasonable option, but only under one condition: if the proposal was again put before the public instead of made in a classic backroom deal.
Indeed, there is nothing as egregious as a politician who wants to pass a law just in time for the law to apply to himself. Even in Congress, when a salary increase is approved, it doesn’t take effect until after the next election.
So until the pols are willing to take their case to the voters in a popular referendum, term limits are better off left alone.