Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Subject: Term Limits Rule.
Date: 8/17/2005 3:37:53 PM Eastern Daylight Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)


By Henry J. Stern
August 17, 2005

Yesterday was a milestone in the 2005 political campaigns in New York City. It was four weeks from Primary Day, September 13, six weeks from the runoff (if there is one), September 27, and twelve weeks from Election Day, November 8. Last night was the first TV debate between the major Democratic contenders.

The historic significance of this otherwise relatively tranquil political season is that it is the third Election under term limits. The first was in 2001 and the second in 2003. Term limits have had an enormous impact in determining who is eligible to seek re-election. For example, if he were not being term limited out of office, Gifford Miller, at 35, would surely have sought
re-election to the Council so he could continue to be Speaker while he seasoned himself for a mayoral candidacy, perhaps at the age of 39, 43 or 47. This is in no way a judgment on the merits of his candidacy, he is said to have done the best in last night's debate. However, term limits force him to challenge an incumbent mayor, or run for something else. The only office becoming vacant is Borough President, a lesser position than Speaker of the Council.

Virginia Fields, who just turned 60, would probably have stayed on as Borough President, an office to which she was comfortably re-elected in 2001. That would leave as candidates Fernando Ferrer, term limited out of the Bronx presidency in 2001, and currently holding no public office, and Congressman Anthony Weiner, who runs in even-numbered years, an advantage that Federal and State elected officials enjoy.

Ed Koch, for example, was elected Mayor in 1977 without risking his Congressional seat. John Lindsay did the same in 1965, running from the same district on Manhattan's east side. If the rivals were only Ferrer and Weiner, others would be more likely to enter the race, which could make it a more inspiring contest.

For the other city-wide positions, Comptroller Thompson is unopposed, and he is looking to his mayoral race in 2009, which would benefit from the re-election of Mayor Bloomberg so that Thompson would not have to face an incumbent Democrat. This leads to one of the many contradictions that politics requires. Thompson must give hearty support to a Democrat (logically Ferrer) to gain Latino votes in 2009. He has already performed this public ritual; but he could hardly have done anything else. (BTW, the Brooklyn Democratic organization, which produced Thompson, supports Gifford Miller for mayor.)

Thompson's situation is similar to that which Hillary Clinton faced in supporting John Kerry in 2004. Of course she endorsed him, and campaigned for him whenever asked. Even though Kerry's election would have sunk her Presidential ambition for at least four years, she prudently acted the role of the good soldier. She had to. We have a secret ballot in America, but even so, she probably voted for Kerry because she knew he would win New York by over a million. If she had to cast, in secret, the vote she knew would decide the election, there would have been internal drama, and you can bet on how she would have resolved the issue, depending on how well you think you know her.

For Public Advocate in 2005, we have a rerun of Gotbaum v. Siegel, with a new set of minor candidates. She won the runoff in 2001 with 64% of a low total vote. Assuming Ms. Gotbaum is re-elected, this will be an open seat in 2009, and Siegel will indubitably make his third try. That is not rare; David Dinkins was elected Borough President of Manhattan on his third
attempt in 1985. Ferrer is running for mayor for the third time (he withdrew early in 1997). Many unsuccessful candidates later seek other offices, and some are elected to higher positions than the one for which they lost. In 1858, for example Stephen A. Douglas was reelected U.S. Senator from Illinois, defeating one Abraham Lincoln.

The list of losers in the Public Advocate primary in 2001 has historical interest. After Gotbaum's 156,829 came four men, closely bunched, with totals of 105,976 for lawyer Siegel, 102,327 for Brooklyn Councilman Steven DiBrienza, 101,393 for trombonist and bandleader Willie Colon, and 99,904 for Manhattan Assemblyman Scott Stringer. A distant sixth and seventh were Manhattan Councilwoman Kathryn Freed (now a Civil Court Judge) and Sheila Flaxman, an audiologist. DiBrienza and Freed had been term limited out of their Council seats. However, if the two had not run, that could even have helped engender Gotbaum's victory.

In looking at what 2005 might have been without term limits, we cannot forget the consequences of the First Term Limits Election in 2001. In that year's mayoral race, there was one term-limited candidate, Council Speaker Peter Vallone. Had he sought re-election, Gifford Miller would never have become Speaker, and would have been term limited out in 2003. As Speaker, he got a bill passed extending his eligibility (and that of five colleagues) by two years. The bill was upheld by the courts.

Normally, City Council elections are held quadrennially, at the same time that city-wide officials and borough presidents are elected. But the Council is redistricted after each decennial census. The results were ready in 2003, and therefore there was a mid-term election.

Since changing a past event involves changing other past events that were dependent on the first event (Cf. "Back to the Future" and other projections of time travel); it is difficult to reconstruct the 2005 mayoral election. It is possible that Speaker Vallone, having passed 70, would have run for mayor as a Last Hurrah. In that case, his son and namesake would have been compelled to wait to inherit (through election) his Council seat in 2006, rather than having done so in 2002. The succession could take place even later -- look at Prince Charles.

Henry J. Stern
New York Civic
520 Eighth Avenue
22nd Floor
New York, NY 10018
(212) 564-4441
(212) 564-5588 (fax)

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