Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Reflecting badly on Bloombo Dicto

Quoted entirely from The New York Times, but with an added hyperlink at the very end :
Editorial : Redoing the City Charter
Published: April 9, 2010

To help quiet the uproar about changing New York City’s term-limits law so he could run for a third term, Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised to set up a commission to rethink the City Charter from top to bottom. The mayor has said “every issue will be on the table, and every voice will be heard,” which is appropriate for what amounts to the first major review of the city’s governing constitution since 1989.

The committee began work last week and already there are uncomfortable signs that issues of particular interest to Mr. Bloomberg — like term limits and nonpartisan voting — will be hurried through in an effort to get them on the ballot in November. That would be a serious mistake, and reflect badly on the mayor and the 15 able civic leaders he has named to the commission.

Any broad recasting of the City Charter has to be done methodically and fairly. That cannot possibly happen in time for this November’s ballot. The following November is not a good choice either, because there would be little else to draw voters to the polls. The most sensible date would be 2012, even if that means reappointing the commission beyond its two-year term.

The commission’s chairman, Matthew Goldstein, chancellor of the City University of New York, has promised to keep some distance from City Hall and engage in “extensive public outreach” before any proposals are made. His first effort was not encouraging. On very short notice, only about 100 people showed up for the commission’s only scheduled public hearing in Manhattan. One official rightly deemed the turnout as “disgraceful” for a city of opinionated people.

The abbreviated session further reinforced suspicions that the whole exercise is really aimed at getting a swift vote this year on term limits and nonpartisan elections. Term limits are a seductive but fundamentally undemocratic idea that can prematurely terminate the careers of some very good public servants. Voters should decide who gets thrown out of office and who stays longer on the job.

Nonpartisan elections are another lofty-sounding idea that create more problems than they solve. Political parties can keep good candidates from succeeding, but parties vet many more. Winners in nonpartisan elections often turn out to have only one real asset: loads of cash. Nonpartisan elections also could undermine New York’s model campaign financing laws.

There are other important issues that need to be addressed. The comptroller, not the public advocate, should assume the mayor’s duties if the mayor can no longer serve. The city’s land use system needs rethinking. Ways should be found to encourage more candidates to run for office and to increase voter turnout.

The last major charter revision was almost three years in the making. Slapping a few politically charged items on the ballot this fall is a recipe for mischief. The commission must do it right: aim for 2012.

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