Supported Mayor’s Bill Allowing Third Term
By Conor Greene
In an effort to explain one of the most controversial votes City Council members have cast this year, Melinda Katz recently sent a letter to constituents outlining her support for a bill allowing officials to serve a third consecutive term in office.
Katz (D-Forest Hills), who is running for the city comptroller position and would have been forced out of her current position on the City Council next year due to term limits, supported Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s bill extending term limits, when it passed by a vote of 29 to 22 in October.
The decision by City Council members to provide themselves with the opportunity to serve a third four year term came after residents previously voted twice to maintain term limits. It was seen by some as a conflict of interest, with the mayor reportedly lobbying hard to gain the necessary support of council members.
The vote threw a wrench into many local races, including next year’s battle for city comptroller. Incumbent William Thompson has said publicly that he is continuing his mayoral bid, despite now having the option of seeking another term as comptroller. He has until July to decide which office he will seek.
That leaves the other comptroller candidates, including Katz, Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn) and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, also a Democrat, in a tough position. Due to the differences in the amounts candidates can raise and spend for the comptroller race versus a city council run, the candidates who are now council members must decide by January 10 if they will seek reelection to their current position.
Katz, who has already spent about $775,000 on her comptroller bid, voted in favor of the mayor’s bill amending the term limit law, and also voted against a bill introduced earlier that same day that would have forced a public vote on the council’s decision. At the time, her comptroller campaign manager, Erik Joerss, maintained that Katz is moving ahead with her comptroller bid.
“Bill Thompson has been very clear that he is running for mayor and we are running for comptroller,” said Joerss on October 29 when asked whether the term limit amendment, or the possibility that Thompson seeks reelection as comptroller, would cause her to instead seek reelection to her council seat. “Other than that, we are not going to get into hypotheticals,” he said.
In a statement, Katz said that she has “long been against term limits” and saw the mayor’s bill as a chance to “create more stability” in local government.” She said that a referendum “would create more confusion for New Yorkers and for candidates about just what offices they are eligible to run for.” When asked whether Katz was concerned about going against the will of residents who twice voted for term limits, Joerss said the statement addresses that issue and refused to provide additional comment.
Katz recently expanded on the reasoning behind her vote in a letter to constituents. She argued that “from a practical point of view, a longer time in office affects… the ability to see capital improvements through completion.” In addition, she notes that the earliest a referendum could be held would be March or April meaning the vote wouldn’t take effect until May, a timeframe that would “hold the future of our City government in limbo at a time when it is in most need of stability.” Katz also argued in the letter that the City Council’s job “is to pass laws whether they change laws enacted by referendum or legislation.”
She maintains that she has been against term limits since the start of her career in public service, writing letters in opposition to the two public referendums as a member of the state Assembly in 1993 and 1996. “My position then as well as now has been clear and has not changed,” she wrote.
So far, a handful of candidates have already emerged to succeed Katz in the 29th council district, which represents Forest Hills and Rego Park, including Deputy Borough President Karen Koslowitz, former assemblyman Michael Cohen, community board member Lynn Schulman, Heidi Chain, president of the 112th Precinct Community Council, Mel Gagarin and Bob Delay.