New York City

Good Facts, Bad Law

In the common law, there is a saying that when the facts are clear, you get bad law.  When the facts are murky, you get good law.  Mike Bloomberg's bid to serve a third term by repealing term limits on the grounds that he alone can shepherd the city through the Wall Street emergency  falls into the category of clear facts but terrible precedent. Bloomberg has been a good mayor, for the most part.  As a successful businessman and billionaire on good terms with fellow businessmen whose decisions about where to locate a business may be important to the city's weathering the Wall Street crisis, there can be no doubt.  In all likelihood, Bloomberg, if he succeeds in repealing the term limit law, will do as good a job in a currently forbidden third term as he has in his first two.  Conditions will be far worse but his skills and contacts seem better suited than most to the likely challenges.

That said, however, there is a reason that term limits were installed.  In an era when incumbency creates its own rewards, term limits are an additional public check on bad behavior and therefore can be an important part of public governance.  For every good long term mayor, such as Chicago's Mayor Daley, there have been numerous terrible ones from Mayor Berry in Washington, DC to Sharpe James in Newark, who used the power of incumbency to win re-election despite atrocious records.  While Mayor Bloomberg may appear to be different than these, law in the United States cannot be about one man.  Suggesting that repealing term limits on account of one person, no matter how much money he has, or what sort of record he has compiled, opens up a slippery slope.

Further, one thing we know for certain is that Mayor Bloomber won't be mayor forever and one day, he will have a successor. How would conservative Republicans feel about term limits, if Al Sharpton, for example, won the election?

In the election that placed Mike Bloomberg in office in 2001, delayed because election day in 2001 happened to fall on September 11th, initially the then mayor, Rudoloph Giuliani suggested that he remain as mayor because the ciy required his steady hand during the emergency that followed.  People rightly viewed this as an unacceptable power grab inconsistent with America's tradition of putting law above any individual no matter how qualified they might seem to be.  One of the people arguing against Mr. Guiliani remaining mayor indefinitely was ironically, Mike Bloomberg who was then elected. 

While New Yorkers may wish to have an open debate about the value of term limits at some future point, this important law should not be abandoned because of one man's desire to extend his rule. 

There are plenty of other ways Mike Bloomberg can serve the public, for example, by running for another office.  And there are plenty of other people who would make good mayors. 

Term limits should not be abolished to accomomodate Mayor Bloomberg and if he cares deeply about American democracy, he should drop his call to end them and retire gracefully at the end of two successful terms.

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