Saturday, October 25, 2008

Democracy Restored In NYC; Cabs Continue To Stink

A funny thing happened in NYC this week. The City Council voted 29-22 to extend the Mayoral term limit so that current Mayor Michael Bloomberg could run for a third term. This is interesting for a few reasons: first, it was Bloomberg himself that pushed for the adoption of these term limits. Second, it is another indication of how quickly rules can be bypassed when a "crisis" is afoot. Third, it engages multi-faceted democratic discussions. It is this third point that I wish to expound upon.

When the vote was over and the course of action decided, spectators from the gallery booed the decision. Some city council members and many NYC citizens were vehemently opposed, not necessarily to the bill itself, but to the process by which the measure was enacted. Many opponents argued that the measure should be put to a city-wide referendum because 1) the bill that put the term limits in place was enacted via referendum; and 2) it's a more democratic way of enacting legislation. Legal experts agreed that the Council was acting within its rights to overturn a law enacted by referendum without holding a similar referendum. But claim #2 is the interesting one.

Essentially, what the opposing Council-members and citizens claim is that, by refusing the hold a public referendum, the Council is acting undemocratically. It must be true, then, that these opponents assume that democracy, or democratic values, are valuable. What's really interesting is that term-limits themselves are a decidedly undemocratic institution. Term limits limit the choice of the citizens by striking from the pool of candidates one extra candidate, namely, the current mayor. Think about it, if one were to seriously value and respect democracy, then one would have to argue for increasing the pool of possible candidates - trusting in the good judgment of the citizens to vote wisely. Thus the concern that a mayor could gain office and turn into some sort of un-oustable tyrant is checked by the democratic institution we call voting.

Thus, the bill's opponents are arguing that the Council should be more democratic in allowing the people to impose undemocratic measures on the City. This seems awfully hypocritical.

What opponents also need to understand is that this bill does not guarantee Bloomberg a third tirm - it does not automatically make him Mayor again. All it does is allow him to run for a third term. What are the opponents of this bill so afraid of? If the people are against Bloomberg's candidacy, they will refuse to vote for him. Problem solved.

The truth behind this matter, I believe, is that these "opponents of the Council" are actually just people who disagree with or dislike Bloomberg himself. They were hoping to get rid of him via statutory limit, whereas now they'll have to go about it the democratic way - securing enough votes to win the majority. So, back to the drawing board, Bloomberg detractors. You have a lot of work to do if you plan on convincing the rest of us New Yorkers that Bloomberg ought not to be Mayor.