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Friday, August 21, 2009

"I Will Be Your Dictator" (or, "It's Good to Be The King")

Mike Bloomberg: Why New York City needs term limits.

Here is an abstract of an upcoming article proposing an amendment to the New York State Constitution that would override the New York City Council's original overturning of the two-term limit on all elected representatives to city office. The two-term limit was originally enacted after a public referendum was passed overwhelmingly in 1993 and then reaffirmed in a second referendum. It is hard to think of an action, anywhere in the country, showing less respect for the unquestioned popular will of the voters than the 2008 vote overturning the two-term limit and allowing current officeholders to remain for a third term.

Constitutional Amendment Can Ensure Term Limits for New Yorkers
By Eric Dixon, Esq.

© Eric T. Dixon 2009 All Rights Reserved

The outrage New Yorkers feel over the evisceration of the two term limits referenda from the 1990s by Mike Bloomberg and the City Council knows few bounds. It crosses all lines in our society, whether they be geographic, ethnic, age, class or ideology. It reduces our city to two camps: democratic versus autocratic.

Public referenda are apparently just a waste of time. Documenting the popular mood over this topic may be a similar waste, as there is a broad consensus extending even to many supporters of Bloomberg and other two-term incumbents seeking to hang onto their offices like calcified barnacles on crusty fishing boats in the briny Canadian Maritimes.

The answer to this abomination may be found by taking a cue from the United States Congress, which responded to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four terms (his fourth being cut short by his death shortly after his third re-election in 1944) by proposing in 1947 the Twenty-Second Amendment limiting the President to two terms and submitting it to the states for ratification. After the requisite three-quarters vote of state legislatures was achieved in 1951, the new amendment limited the chief executive’s term in office. I propose that the New York State Legislature borrow a page from the early Cold War-era Congress and enact a similar amendment to the New York State Constitution limiting the term of any official, elected by all the voters residing within any city with a population equal to or greater than one million people as enumerated in the most recent United States census, to two elected terms or ten years (the latter being necessary if the official takes over during the latter half of his or her predecessor’s term of office).

The constitutionality of this proposal should engender little serious debate as the Twenty-Second Amendment has survived its court challenges and outlasted its critics. There could be an equal protection issue because this amendment seems targeted at only New York City – which is certainly true; the State Legislature is free to drop the population cutoff to cover Buffalo, Rochester and Yonkers if it desires. But perhaps its most important feature is the political equity and popular goodwill that it would engender. This proposal could hand the much-maligned State Legislature, and even a poll-challenged governor, with a sure-fire political winner and in an election year to boot.

The mechanics of such a proposal are a little complex. A constitutional convention would have to be called. It is likely that some sycophants will attempt to delay this from happening, and lawsuits will surely be filed somewhere in order to further hold up this change. Nevertheless, state legislators could “get the ball rolling” on an issue this fall. And after Bloomberg’s machinations on mayoral control this summer and his generally arrogant demeanor since his entry into public/political life, many Albany representatives could use something with which to rehabilitate their personal lives, political obligations and family concerns.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer and strategic analyst who engages in crisis management and other matters. Mr. Dixon cautions readers that this article is not legal advice. Mr. Dixon may be contacted for further comment through, or at 917-696-2442.

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