Friday, October 10, 2008

Changing Term Limits without referendum a Human Rights Violation

This week, two bills on term limits were introduced at City Council. The first bill was introduced by Council Member Simcha Felder at the request of Mayor Bloomberg. It would rewrite the law to extend term limits from two to three terms. If passed, the bill would enable the Mayor to proceed with his plans to run for a third term in office. The second bill, Int. No. 850, introduced by four Council Members would require a public referendum (a vote of the electorate) to make any change to the term limits law. The previous two votes on term limits went through such a referendum. In support of basic democratic principles and human rights as the bedrock of a stable and just society, I hope the latter bill prevails.

What's wrong with the Mayor's proposal to rewrite the term limits law? The most obvious answer is that it is self-serving. The bill would circumvent the will of New Yorkers on how long elected officials should be in office so that the Mayor, and over half of the City Council can keep their jobs.

In circumventing a public referendum on the issue, the Mayor, along with Speaker Christine Quinn, demonstrate that they do not respect the democratically expressed will of the people.

The course that Mayor Bloomberg has pursued also indicates that he prioritizes the opinion of the media and economic power brokers in the City over that of the people. In his bid to undo the results of a public referendum, the Mayor did not solicit the opinion of the public but instead held secret meetings with the billionaire and term limits champion, Ronald Lauder, as well as the city's most powerful media men.

This process in not only anti-democratic, but also violates universally accepted human rights principles including article 21 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)..the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.

As members of the New York City human rights community kick off a 60-Day campaign to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the UDHR, we have an opportunity to embrace its principles. Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council could start by ensuring that any change on term limits is submitted to a public vote.

Ejim Dike, Director of Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center

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