Bloomberg Faces Wrath for Transgressions To Voters

A group of elected officials, voters, prospective candidates and advocacy groups have challenged an amendment to the city’s term limits law permitting Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and city council members to serve 12 years in office rather than eight.

The action was filed in the Eastern District in Brooklyn Monday by more than two dozen plaintiffs including former Staten Island Borough President and Congressman Guy Molinari; Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum; New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., who considered running as a mayoral candidate in 2009 prior to the amendment of the term-limits law; council members Letitia James, Working Families Party-Brooklyn, Bill de Blasio, D-Brooklyn, and Charles Barron, D-Brooklyn; voters from all five boroughs; the New York Public Interest Research Group Inc., and Virginia-based group U.S. Term Limits.

The suit contends that Mr. Bloomberg and the council “seized upon the recent economic downturn to rush through with unprecedented speed the dismantling of the Old Term-Limits Law – brushing aside the sizeable investments of personal, political, and financial capital that the voters expended in connection with Referenda ratifying a two-term limit, and thereby rendering meaningless the votes cast by City voters in connection with those Referenda

The plaintiffs maintain in their 42 U.S.C. §1983 civil rights action that the city measure allowing officeholders to serve three consecutive four-year terms instead of two violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by “undermin[ing] the integrity of the voting process, effectively nullif[ying] the constitutionally-protected right to vote, and perniciously chill[ing] political speech by sending the unavoidable message that the democratic exercises of initiatives and referenda can be disregarded by public officials.

It seeks a declaration that the legislation is unconstitutional and an injunction to prevent the Board of Elections from enforcing the law.

The plaintiffs are represented pro bono by Randy M. Mastro of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who served as deputy mayor during the Giuliani administration, and Norman Siegel, a former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Molinari v. Bloomberg, 08-Civ-4539, is the third lawsuit to challenge the term limits amendment. According to Mr. Siegel, one suit, originally filed in Manhattan before Supreme Court Justice Jacqueline W. Silbermann, which contended that the city council should be enjoined from voting on the legislation due to a conflict-of-interest, has since been withdrawn.

A second action, Scheiner v. Bloomberg, 08-cv-9072, is pending in the Southern District of New York, Mr. Siegel said.

Corporation Counsel (that is the corporation that acts as if it is government) Michael A. Cardozo said in a statement, “We believe the claims lack merit, and are confident that the Court will determine that the amendment to the term limits law was proper and lawful.”

The council voted 29-22 to enact Local Law 51 of 2008, the term-limits amendment on Oct. 23, and Mr. Bloomberg signed the measure amid considerable controversy.

‘Legislative Fiat’

According to the complaint, Mr. Bloomberg, whose second term is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2009, along with term-limited City Council members pushed the law through by “legislative fiat,” nullifying two citywide referenda, in which voters supported term limits. The first, passed in 1993 by a vote of 59 to 41 percent declared that the mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and council members could not serve more than eight consecutive years.

Three years later, according to the complaint, voters, by a vote of 54 to 46 percent, rebuffed a ballot proposal to extend term limits for city council members to three consecutive terms.

The complaint notes that Mr. Bloomberg, as recently as April of this year, supported term limits and in the past, reportedly labeled efforts by the City Council to extend them as “disgraceful” and “an anti-democratic outrage.”

However, “as he approached the twilight of his mayoral service,” the mayor’s position began to reverse course, the plaintiffs contend.

According to the complaint, under the two-term limit law, Mr. Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Ms. Gotbaum, Mr. Thompson, council members de Blasio and Barron, four of the sitting borough presidents, and 32 other council members would be barred from running for reelection in 2009.

The passage of the new law, the complaint alleges, “effectively nullified the civic efforts, millions of dollars spent, and years of debate that culminated in two separate referenda that brought term limits to New York City,” and gives prospective candidates little change of unseating incumbents, who are “armed” with “intrinsic” financial and media advantages.

The complaint charges that the mayor and City Council violated voters’ First Amendment right to vote and participate in the political process, and sent a message that attempts to circumscribe the powers of elected city officials “can be summarily undone by those same” officials.

In addition to Messrs. Mastro and Siegel, Jim Walden, Richard A. Bierschbach, and Gabriel Hermann of Gibson Dunn represented the plaintiffs, except for the New York Public Interest Research Group, which is represented by Pieter Van Tol of Lovells.

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