Explanation (sort of) for recent vote

The official communication below just came from City Council Member David Yassky.

Dear friends:

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 City 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, the Speaker 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 Council Members 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 reelection.

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 Council Member 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

Council Member, 33rd District

Share this Story:

  • skunky

    I presume he’ll be running again for his seat so he’ll get what he deserves in the next election. That’s if people care.

    I see his position, and I agree with many of the premises he states, i.e. term limits are a bad idea, that they should be repealed by the voters, not the council, but I disagree with his conclusion that he had to vote for it.

  • Alex

    Well explained. I see where he’s coming from.

  • nicky

    he does what is best for him always

  • joyce Saly

    Yassky could never adequately explain why he supported the Mayor’s position to eliminate a referendum and caved in to Bloomberg’s pressure. A referendum would have allowed New Yorkers to decide whether they wanted a third term that would have enabled Bloomberg to run. Yassky”s decision to support the Mayor and hijack democracy shows us that he could never “serve in the best interest of the people [he] represents.”

  • my2cents

    Could some explain to me why they couldn’t have just written a law that extended the MAYOR’s term limits while not affecting city council? Is that legally possible? Is there a reason other than greed that this didn’t happen?

  • A Voter

    The idea that this vote somehow hijacked democracy is simply wrong. Was it illegal? No. Can the opponents sue as a result? Yes. The real problem here is with term limits because they actually undermine democracy. Term limits are a short sighted solution to a larger problem. Democracy requires participation. If you don’t like what your elected representatives are doing you have the power to remove them from office by voting them out. The reason the system is tilted toward incumbency is that voters have gotten too lazy to pay attention and stop office holders from rigging the system to make it easier for them to get reelected. If more people voted, elected officials wouldn’t be able to just do whatever they wanted. So let’s stop this silly argument about term limits and start debating real issues, then go vote on them.

  • voting parent

    The term-limit referendum(s) as passed simply serve(s) to deprive future voters [think future generations] of their right to elect whom they see fit. This twice approved bad law says, ‘every one of you poor children to follow in NYC, forever, are stuck with _our generation’s opinion_ on the worthiness of politicians, “eight consecutive years” and out.’ If the original framer(s) of the NYC term-limits laws was(were) well-meaning in his(their) intention, he(they) blew it in their execution. Period.
    Incumbency privileges are terrible wherever they exist. Sure thing. And they are demonstrably a result of entrenched two-party control of the public vote. To remove the incumbency advantage we need to address that simple fact: Deny parties the control of our voting process and you remove their ‘incumbency privilege’. Draft a law for that and solve the real problem.
    Back to our story: I suppose Mr. Bloomberg could have waged a campaign for a write-in vote, then resigned his post for the last few days of his term. He could have then — without breaking the current term limit law — simply accepted the will of the people to begin again as Mayor of the greatest city ever.
    This bad law (NYC Charter, Ch 50 Sec 1137) is written so poorly that the phrase
    “limit to not more than eight consecutive years the time elected officials…” is used. Well? 7 years 11 months and 29 days? Then another term? Sounds good to me!
    Go get’em Mr. Mayor.

  • T.K. Small

    My2cents –

    I also wondered about whether the low could have been written to only apply to the office of the Mayor. A friend of mine is an attorney who works for one of the city council members who introduced this legislation. There is a good chance that he actually drafted this initiative. I probably will hear from him today.

    A Voter –

    City Council may have acted legally, but I do not think that they acted prudently. One of the challenges of a good leader is to get people to do things without making people feel that they are being manipulated or forced into something. In this regard, I think that the Mayor and the 29 City Council members have failed.

    But it is not to say that there are types of circumstances which would require expedited changes to the city charter. I am in the City Council fairly regularly and have had many conversations with members and staffers about this issue. When the problems first appeared with Bear Stearns it was a signal that tough financial times were ahead. As the financial guru that Mayor Mike Bloomberg probably is, he should have been well aware of the outcome. There was plenty of time to organize a referendum and get it scheduled for next week.

  • In the Heights

    No one has mentioned at all the fact that because it is Bloomberg we are talking about, an extension of term limits really means he will just buy the election for himself again. Merits aside, and I think he has done a good job, there is nothing democratic about having so much cash you can self-finance your re-election. An extension of Bloomberg’s term limits means he will be mayor again. No one else has a chance because no one can raise enough money to beat him.

  • Rik

    Basically, “I was against it all the way. In fact right up to the point when my comfy position might be in jeopardy.”

    Way to represent democracy, Yassky. Spineless, utterly spineless.