Brownstone Brooklyn pols in city and state government are on the front lines of the battle to stop Mayor Bloomberg from getting a third term — but their motives might have as much to do with their own political ambition as it does with civic virtue.
Following a week of tumult in city government, a Brooklyn state legislator jumped into the chaos produced by a Bloomberg bill that would allow the mayor and other city elected officials to run for a third term. Bloomberg’s bill does not call for a public referendum on the issue, despite the fact that term limits were twice ratified by public plebicites in 1993 and 1996.
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D–Fort Greene) said he will introduce a bill next month that, if enacted, would force any changes to the current term-limit law to go before the voters in a referendum.
“If the City Council does not do the right thing and put forward a referendum on term limits, then the state legislature should step in on behalf of the public and stand up for democracy,” Jeffries said on Wednesday.
Jeffries’s announcement followed a rally led by Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Clinton Hill) and Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D–Park Slope) — both of whom support a public referendum rather than a council rubber stamp of the mayor’s bill.
Brownstone Brooklyn’s other councilmember, David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights), who is the midst of his own campaign for comptroller, has not taken a position on the mayor’s proposal. If the mayor succeeds, Yassky could run again for his council seat.
James and DeBlasio may have good reasons for wanting term limits to stay just the way they are: James is not among the 35 councilmembers facing expulsion next year, so she would be a front-runner for speaker if more senior council members are thrown out at the end of 2009. And DeBlasio is already the lead candidate to succeed Borough President Markowitz if term limits force Markowitz into (what he would consider) early retirement.
Both denied that what they might gain plays a role here.
“I’ve got a lot of projects in my district that I’m working on and am not interested in running for speaker,” said James, who came to the Council after winning a special election after the assassination of James Davis in 2003.
Even if she does not run for speaker, her seniority would give her added power and perks at City Hall.
DeBlasio told The Brooklyn Paper last week that he’s running for Markowitz’s seat whether the formidable borough president is in the race or not — though few think he’d actually take on the powerful and popular Beep if term limits are scrapped.
Markowitz, for his part, is aggressively campaigning for the term-limit change so that he can run again for what he typically calls “the only job I ever wanted.”
DeBlasio didn’t talk about his political future at a rally that he and James led on Monday, choosing instead to talk up his bill that would allow the public to decide on term limits.
“There is still ample time on the clock to go through this process the right way,” DeBlasio said. “I am drafting legislation to establish a Charter Revision Commission that could put the question of term limits on the ballot this spring.”
Though DeBlasio and James would probably have brighter futures if they can beat back the push to extend term limits by council fiat, good government advocates say they are not necessarily acting out of self-interest in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms.
“Untangling everyone’s motives is difficult,” said Gene Russianoff, from the New York Public Interest Research Group. “There’s obviously a pinball game with lots of things bouncing around.”
He pointed out that DeBlasio and James are on the right side of opinion polls that show the public believes a plebiscite is the proper way to alter the regulations.