A number of current and former elected officials filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the legislation on week after Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is championing the initiative, signed it into law.
The controversial legislation was created to extend the term limits rule from two terms to three, allowing Mayor Bloomberg and other elected city officials to run for their seat again next November. Term limits were created in 1993 by means of a voter referendum, and reaffirmed in 1996 after a second referendum. Though the City Council cannot overturn term limits, which are now a part of the City Charter, they were able to extend them by voting on the mayor’s legislation.
After a lengthy and heated hearing, the Council ultimately voted in favor of the legislation by a vote of 29 to 22. Opponents of the legislation say that the council used a loophole to bypass the will of the voters, while those who support the legislation say that the voters will ultimately decide who they want to represent them in the next election.
Responding to what they feel is a betrayal of the public’s trust, a number of elected officials have signed on as plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit to challenge the legislation. The lawsuit, filed on Monday, alleges that voters have a constitutional right to a vote on term limits, and that the council’s decision on term limits bypassed that right.
“Today’s court action is necessary to correct an injustice,” said Comptroller William Thompson. “We are stepping forward on behalf of those New Yorkers who were denied a voice when self-interest prevailed over the public good. Today’s action aims to restore democracy to this process.”
“Mayor Bloomberg may have won the vote in the City Council chambers, but I feel strongly that he’ll lose in the court of law, and certainly in the court of public opinion,” said Councilman Charles Barron, who was especially critical of the extension during the council hearings and vote. “Thousands of people are outraged by his thwarting of democracy, and I believe it will be reflected in the polls come next November.
“The voters twice ratified term limits, and they have a constitutional right to have their vote matter,” said Randy Mastro, co-counsel in the lawsuit. “This is why we have to go to court-to prevent local elected officials who acted in their own self-interest from disenfranchising the voters. And that is why we will prevail-for the preservation and protection of our local democracy.”
“Today marks an important next step in our fight to restore democracy in New York City,” said Councilman Bill de Blasio. “One week ago, the mayor enacted his term limits bill into law, officially signing away the voice and votes of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. Today, we are going to court to ensure that those voices are heard.”
If successful, the lawsuit will require the city to hold an election regarding term limits. A proposed amendment to the term limits legislation would have created a similar special election, but it was voted down by the Council.
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries has proposed a similar piece of legislation at the state-level that would change a rule in the State Board of Elections requiring that a special election be held on the matter by the first week of March 2009. Jeffries is currently looking for a Senate Sponsor for the legislation.