Slow Week, Slow Year

This is a slow week, so it’s not the best time to post anything that takes a lot of work.  But it is a good time to post a prediction, so it can be referenced if it turns out to be true, but will be forgotten if it isn’t.  Especially a about something I know nothing about. 

The New York political blogosphere has evolved at an opportune time, with a Presidential election in 2004, a Mayoral election in 2005, and a Gubernatorial election in 2006.  In 2007, however, this fledgling medium will face a year of dead air, with no election scheduled for that November.  There is the likelihood that major public policy decisions and non-decisions will be made, especially in Albany, that will affect my life, my friend’s and neighbors lives, and my children’s lives into the far-off future.  But if people paid attention to such decisions more people would read my posts, and someone other than myself and Daniel Millstone (who is that guy? I ought to meet him for a beer and save some bandwidth) would post on Gotham Gazette.   So the political appointees, consultants, and activists who inhabit the blogosphere will probably go silent.  Until something happens to make the 2007 election significant.  That something will be…

A referendum, put forward by the City Council at the last possible second with little prior debate or publicity, to extend or repeal term limits.

I’ve thought about it for some time, and for Christine Quinn there is no other way out.   She is torn between the expectations of her fellow Council Members, to whom she promised the moon, and the potential scorn of knowledgeable citizens, who might influence the rest that she is the least democratic (small d) politician since Nixon.

If she tries to eliminate or de facto eliminate (by repeatedly extending) term limits without another referendum, she and the other Council Members will be hated in this city, and after paying that price, they might even lose in court.  A referendum in 2008 has little chance of succeeding, with hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens who like the idea of having real elections showing up to vote for President.  The year 2009 is too late from a self interested point of view, but not if the current members of the Council actually have a philosophical objection to term limits.  I’ll just pause to stop laughing here, and then continue writing.

If she decides to put repeal, or de facto repeal, to a vote, but shows her hand too early, Bloomberg can appoint a Charter Revision Commission and pre-empt the Council’s ability to put something on the ballot.  So it has to be a sneak attack.

If the politicos are right, and Quinn wants to run for Mayor, she can’t lose with a referendum.  With a low turnout in 2007 comprised primarily of special interests and insiders, it might win.  In that case, she can’t run for Mayor, as most voters would despise her, but she’d have her current job until death or indictment, as will her grateful members, just like state legislators.  But if the referendum loses, most voters would forgive and forget, allowing here to run for Mayor, just as the West Side Stadium defeat was a blessing in disguise for Bloomberg.  She’ll have two years to live it down, especially if – with term limits secure – no one wants to expend resources to remind people of her sneak attack.

My guess is that the repeal or extension (with another extension in four years) of term limits would come at the end of a very long question, with the front side loaded with nice-sounding procedural changes, as in Los Angeles – where a buried term limits extension is on the ballot this November.  That might suck in at least some of the “good government” groups, who prefer their theory of voter sovereignty to the easily observed reality of special interest-dominated or even corrupt unchallenged incumbents and contested elections for open seats.

What would I think of this?  I would be outraged.  I would sooner vote for a single eight-year term than end term limits, with an interim election to be held only upon the collection of a large number of signatures of people who feel the current representative is unacceptable.  That would be closer to reality, and less of a waste of people’s time.  But politicians seem to like fictional elections as much as they hate real ones.  Otherwise, Kim Il Sung wouldn’t bother running for election and getting 99.9% of the vote with 99.9% of those eligible voting.  But then, on the public policy side, I’ve been increasingly outraged for years, as have many other people, and it hasn’t made a difference.  So it won’t make a difference here.

I predict a referendum to repeal or extend term limits will be suddenly introduced with little debate, as in Los Angeles, for a 2007 vote.  It will be bad for democracy and bad for most people, but it might save some bloggers jobs.

No need to debate the merits of term limits here.  We’ll have plenty of time for that next year.  Unless you are looking forward to joining me an an ethical and practical review of the state budget.