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With No Term Limits, Will NYC Be 'Bagel Republic'?

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Michael Bloomberg's decision to ask the city council to overturn New York's term-limit law so he can run for a third term as mayor seems popular so far. But some denounce his plan to change the law by calling a vote of people with a personal stake in going along with him.


Michael Bloomberg announced this week that the current financial crisis is so great he will run for a third term as mayor of New York. He warned, we may be on the verge of a meltdown. Recent polls show that many New Yorkers want Mr. Bloomberg to stay. He may be the most popular mayor since Fiorello LaGuardia. But New York has a term-limit law approved in two referendums in the 1990s. The mayor says, in so many words, forget about it. He won't call another referendum before running next year. Referendums are expensive and unpredictable. Instead, he'll ask the 51 members of the New York City Council to overturn the current law.

Ask City Council members to overturn a law that so insensitively limits how long they can hold office? Even if you've only see New York in episodes of "Law and Order," how do you think they'll vote?

Politicians often like term limits when they first run for office. They say term limits will prevent cliques and entrenched interests. It will guaranty that fresh blood and talent, like theirs, comes into the system. They say term limits will free politicians to act in the public interest rather than narrow, political self-interests. But once they start wheeling and dealing, politicians often discover the virtues of experience. They wonder why voters should be deprived of theirs. They warn that a politician who doesn't have to worry about reelection will be out of touch with the public, and that's not real democracy.

I've never liked term limits for a simple reason. We already have them. The best way to prevent someone from holding office too long is to vote them out, unless you think they're doing a good job and want to keep them.

While the mayor's decision seems popular so far, there are a few public officials, including those who'd hoped to run for mayor themselves and good government groups, who denounce his plan to change the law by calling it a quick vote of people who have a personal stake in going along with him, sounding like something of what in New York I'll call a "bagel republic." Even Vladimir Putin, who is not celebrated for subtlety, arranged to install a puppet government rather than just toss out a term-limits law like an empty bottle of vitamin water into a blue recycling bag.

The mayor knows that popularity can be fleeting. Back in 2003, after he imposed an unpopular anti-smoking law and raised property taxes, Mr. Bloomberg's public approval rating dropped to 23 percent. Few people wanted him to run for reelection then, much less overturn term limits. Mr. Bloomberg says he's only figuring out a way to run for mayor once more now because the times are so serious that this is not the time for politics.

And I've got a bridge to nowhere I'd like to sell you.

(Soundbite of song "Brooklyn Bridge")

Mr. Mel Torme: (Singing) Isn't she a beauty? Isn't she a queen? Nicest bridge that I have ever seen. Her paint so little...

SIMON: Mel Torme, and this is NPR News.

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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

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