Friday, October 17, 2008

Bloomberg to Democracy: Drop Dead!

I went down to the spirited hearing on term limits at City Hall last night, and predictably, the dominant opinion of the witnesses was against the repeal of of the law. I think it's going to get torpedoed anyway; it was clear that many council members are relishing the possibility that they could serve twelve years instead of eight (at $112,500 a year, plus benefits).

The amazing thing was the pattern of argument adopted by the council members and the witnesses who wanted to see term limits overturned: They essentially said that the voters chose wrong in '93 and '96 and needed to be corrected. Hmmm. This logic could then be applied to any number of publicly-approved laws that the city council doesn't like, I suppose.

Where does democracy fit into all this? Those arguing in favor of overturning term limits said that the current law deprives the electorate of the choice to vote for an incumbent, and that this is grossly undemocratic; that what they were actually arguing for was a restoration of true democracy. The only problem is that this restoration calls for the suspension of a voter-approved law, which leaves their passionate plea for democracy sounding a little hollow. And it was hard not to notice that that most of the people arguing on behalf of the incumbents were the incumbents.

In 2005, Bloomberg himself said that an attempt to overturn the voter-approved term limits law would be "disgusting." He must have taken something to settle his stomach since then, because now he loves the idea. His current pattern of argument for the repeal of term limits is that he is the only person on planet earth who could possibly shepherd the city through the coming hard times brought down by Wall Street. There are two big problems with this: First, it's quite clear that this scheme occurred to him before Lehman filed for bankruptcy and the Dow came tumbling down a few short weeks ago. The crash just gave him a less selfish-sounding excuse.

And secondly, "I'm the only man who can protect you," has been the favored line of dictators throughout history; the standard excuse for the suspension of democracy. The last time it was heard here in NYC was when Rudy Giuliani angled for an extension of his administration in the wake of 9/11, because he was the only man who could possibly lead the city through the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Thankfully, he was not granted his extension, and guess what? We somehow managed to get through it without him.

I agree with Mike circa 2005 - this is disgusting.