Brooklyn Council members Bill de Blasio and Letitia James announced that their attorneys are preparing a lawsuit to challenge the controversial measure, and several members of the State Assembly have discussed creating a state law to require a public referendum on the matter before the November election.
After two days of lengthy testimony from citizens, civic leaders, attorneys, and elected officials, the City Council voted in favor of the controversial measure, and against an amendment proposed by Councilman David Yassky that would have required that the decision be ratified by a public vote.
Opponents of the measure say that it is a conflict of interest for members of the City Council, who stand to gain an additional four years in office, to make a decision that would benefit them. Other opponents, many on the Council itself, have accused the mayor of using backroom tactics to persuade council members to vote in favor of the extension.
De Blasio and James have been among the most vocal opponents of the legislation, holding a demonstration on the steps of City Hall shortly after the decision and speaking out against it during the vote. They claim that the vote blatantly violated local conflict of interest laws, and filed a lawsuit after the mayor signed the bill into law Monday.
“Last week’s council vote represents a step backward for democracy in this city,” said James. “It is my right, and duty, as a representative of the people to question the legality of altering voter-ratified term limits via legislation. Our government has completely disregarded the will of New Yorkers.”
“It is imperative to pursue this course of action on behalf of the voters of this city. I believe that voters’ rights were clearly denied and suppressed,” said New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, a likely candidate for mayor. “People must trust that when they cast their vote, it will count. Historically, when trust is breached, we turn to the courts to seek justice.”
Though they had little say in the decision other than providing testimony at the hearings, members of the State Assembly have announced that they want to create a state election law that would require the extension to be put to a vote before it can be made law.
The legislation was written by Brooklyn Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who will introduce the bill shortly after Tuesday’s election, and hopes that a sponsor can be found in what may be a radically changed State Senate.
“The council was self-interested in the outcome of the vote,” said Jeffries, as he explained why the involvement of the state legislature is necessary.
His legislation would require a public vote on the extension of term limits by the first Tuesday in March. It has already gained significant backing in the Assembly, and he said that several senators are anxious to sponsor it.
“The council failed to do the right thing in this situation,” he said. “This legislation will give the public the representation that they deserve.”
Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for New York Public Interest Research Group, expressed his disappointment regarding the council’s decision, and offered his support for alternative ways to bring the decision to a public vote.
“Nearly 90 percent of New Yorkers want to vote on term limits, not have their council members vote to extend their own terms,” said Russianoff. “If we ever needed the courts as a check and balance on the legislature and executive, it is now.”