Thursday, August 28, 2008

Elections = term limits? The disingenuous Marty Markowitz

With Mayor Mike Bloomberg quietly exploring the possibility of having the City Council--not the voters--overturn term limits, term-limited Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, undeclared for mayor and unsure of his next move, has signed on.

The Sun, in an article headlined Markowitz Calls for Ending Term Limits, reported Tuesday:
"New York City has always had term limits: They're called elections," Mr. Markowitz said yesterday in an interview at City Hall, where he held a press conference calling for greater federal funding for the city's senior centers. He added that his support for ending term limits would have a direct impact on his own political future.

"If Brooklynites would have me again, I would love to serve as their borough president," Mr. Markowitz said.


The justification

Markowitz suggested that term limits empower a "faceless, nameless bureaucracy" and, as the Sun reported, second terms are often less effective under the current two-term system, as they must devote much of their time to planning their next campaign rather than governing.

Well, um, shouldn't they be planning their next campaign for their job, as well? And how much of what Markowitz does is governing and how much is promotion?

The rebuttal

City Council Member and BP candidate Charles Barron offered the Sun a rebuttal:
"A lot of people give that old line about term limits, 'It's called Election Day,' but it's almost impossible to get incumbents out," he said in an interview. "There are too many people in office who have really rendered themselves ineffective and need to go. We need new blood and new leadership."

The New York Times, in its initial coverage, neglected to include that obvious rebuttal. A follow-up included criticism from challengers.

The "ultimate job"?

The Times also reported that Markowitz has long said that the job of borough president was one he had always coveted, calling it “the job of a lifetime.”

The Times didn't point out that, as speculation began about a race for Mayor, Markowitz excised from the Borough President's web site the claim that borough president "is the ultimate job" and that he had no interest in becoming mayor.

Term limits the answer?

In a comment on the Times's CityRoom blog, former City Council candidate (and longtime gadfly) George Spitz suggested that term limits don't work all that well:
Changing the New York City Charter to substitute for the present single-member district selection method, a proportional representation system, consisting of the multimember districts, similar to that used by the Democratic Party in choosing presidential delegates might provide a more representative City Council. Substituting a modest filing fee refundable to candidates obtaining 15% of the vote as a replacement for the draconian signature requirements which cause many non-organization candidates to be removed from the ballot could also aid in the creation of a more diversified City Council. Providing equal distribution of campaign finance funding and/or making the Video Voters Guide interactive so voters can question all candidates running in their own constituency should improve citizen awareness as well as offering greater representation for varied viewpoints.

I think the proportional representation system is especially worth consideration, especially given how some City Council districts are irregularly drawn.

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