Why Term Limits Are Good

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:02

    The city will see some big - and necessary - changes in the upcoming year

    It's an interesting quirk in the political world that some elected offices are term limited while the vast majority are not.

    In New York state politics, you can be a legislator for 40 years or more, winning your district election every two years, generally with no real opposition. The powers of incumbency are so great that more people are indicted or die in office than lose to challengers in contested elections.

    The same is true of Congress and the Senate, a legislative body which has come under intense criticism in recent years for its ineffective ways, most recently highlighted by the government shutdown.

    The maxim these days is that most people like their Congressmember but disrespect Congress, and some of that may be attributable to the crippling polarization and long tenures that we are seeing in this large legislative body.

    But in New York, as we are seeing this year, city officials turn over every eight years (except for the 12-year anomaly due to the overturning of term limits for a brief time in 2009). In 2014, we'll have a new mayor, public advocate, comptroller and almost half of the city council.

    The fresh energy and ideas will hopefully infuse the city and build on the successes of the past few decades. There has been an incredibly strong mayor leading New York for most of the past 30 years and the city has gone from being thought of as ungovernable in the Lindsay era to a model of growth and safety and economic vitality to large cities around the world.

    It's worth pausing for a second to think about the breathtaking changes the city has experienced under the steady and innovative guidance of Mike Bloomberg and his talented group of deputy mayors and commissioners.

    As NYU Professor Mitchell Moss eloquently wrote in a recent NY Observer article, there may be a yearning for change in some quarters of the city's democratic party, but history will be very kind to Mike Bloomberg's legacy.

    The visionary public health changes -- particularly the once-controversial smoking ban in public places -- have not only extended life spans in New York but also influenced other cities around the world to adopt these life-saving measures.

    The rezoning of large swaths of the city -- particularly the long-underutilized waterfront -- has led to the revitalization of many neighborhoods, particularly in Brooklyn and Queens.

    The increase in park space and large tracts of open space like the High Line in Chelsea has made this a better and more enjoyable city for those who live here and the ever-increasing stream of tourists.

    And the list goes on.

    But now, because we should all believe that the arc of history is constantly bending towards progress, Bloomberg's successor gets to pick priorities and ways to make our city a better place for all.

    If it's de Blasio, which seems likely with the huge 50-point recent poll lead, then we can expect more attention paid to the middle class and the poor. De Blasio will champion the rights of middle class workers and those trying to raise themselves up to the middle class.

    There is no doubt that while the city has improved in many ways in the past few decades, there are still way too many New Yorkers who struggle to make ends meet. Those New Yorkers will have a champion in de Blasio and it'll be interesting to see what he can do to help them while also ensuring that sectors like Wall Street and the wealthy want to stay in the city.

    Change is generally good, and term limits symbolize the political equivelant of change. It's probably time to explore term limits for our legislatures, too, whether it's in Albany or Washington, DC.

    When you're in a job that's too secure and immune to change, sometimes it leads to bad habits and forgetting the will of the people who elected you in the first place.

    So when you vote in November and observe as a whole new team takes over the reigns of the city, remember that in the long term, change is good, even if there may be some initial bumps in the road.

    Tom Allon, the president of City and State, NY, is a former Liberal Party-backed candidate for Mayor. Question or comments? Tallon@cityandstateny.com