Betting that voters will still care about Christine Quinn’s term-limits deal in 2013

Quinn and Bloomberg serve themselves beverages on the ferry. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Four years ago Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council, led by speaker Christine Quinn, overturned term limits, allowing Bloomberg to run for a third term.

New York City voters had made their preference for two terms, and only two terms, clear in two referendums, and their displeasure with the incumbent mayor's self-interested reversal of their will was a factor when they nearly replaced him with former comptroller Bill Thompson, despite the sitting mayor's outlay of $109 million.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who was a councilman in 2008, opposed the move by Quinn and Bloomberg, instead calling for a referendum to let the electorate decide on the matter for itself, as it had twice before. The council voted that proposal down.

"The people of the city will long remember what we have done here today, and the people will be unforgiving,” de Blasio told reporters. 

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On Tuesday, de Blasio launched what is likely to be a recurring theme in his primary bid against Quinn for the Democratic mayoral nomination next year.

"Term limits overturned by City Council 4 years ago today," he said, on Twitter.

"Somehow, that got a vote but #paidsick doesn't?" he continued, referring to a bill that would mandate some businesses give employees at least five days of paid sick leave, which Quinn opposes on the grounds that the economy isn't healthy enough to support it.

De Blasio's campaign spokeswoman Rebecca Katz responded by email to a question about the tweets by restating the premise: "New Yorkers are looking for a new direction in governing the city—a more inclusive and accountable approach that starts with actually listening to neighborhoods, not dictates from the top-down," she wrote. "The bad taste of the term limits power grab lingers—and it resonates when people see the City Council refuse to hold a vote on the paid sick days legislation that is supported by an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers, and rank-and-file councilmembers."

De Blasio was not the only mayoral candidate to oppose Quinn and Bloomberg on term limits.

"Today our government chose to empower itself rather than the people it serves," said Thompson in 2008, who's again running for mayor.

In an email, Thompson's spokesman Brendan Brosh wrote, "The term limits vote was a dark moment for the people of New York where the will of voters that was expressed on two separate occasions at the ballot box was overturned by the Mayor and the Speaker of the City Council. Voters have long memories and will remember those elected officials that knowingly disregarded the will of New Yorkers in 2008."

Comptroller John Liu, another possible candidate who was then a councilman, voted against the term limits overhaul on the grounds that, though he opposed term limits in theory, the existing limits came from "a deep cynicism for politics, for elected officials, not only here in New York City, but all across America." 

Manhattan Media C.E.O. Tom Allon, who's running a longshot Republican campaign for mayor, wasn't in politics at the time, but he told Capital he thinks the term limits overhaul "disregarded the will of the people."

In fact, only two from the existing slate of probable 2013 mayoral candidates supported the overhaul: Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who testified that politicians need more years in office to be effective, and "By any measure, 12 is better."

And Quinn.

"Opponents of this bill may mischaracterize it as some sort of back-room deal," said Quinn at the time. "That is, quite frankly, ludicrous."

In Bloomberg's statement of victory, he thanked Quinn for her "leadership."

On one hand, the term limits overhaul is still a bitter pill for some voters, especially of the engaged Democratic sort who vote in primaries. On the other, four years is a long time.

"It won't be as big, but it will be an issue," said George Artz, a political consultant, who remains unaffiliated with any of the campaigns.

"Candidates are going to run on what they're going to run on," agreed Evan Stavisky, another consultant unaffiliated with any of the campaigns. "But quite frankly, unless there's a tremendous turnaround in the local economy in the next 11 months, the odds are that the election's going to be about creating jobs and opportunity."