by John DeSio
City Councilman G. Oliver Koppell is set to help overturn the expressed will of the voters.
Koppell announced this past week that he would begin the process of drafting a bill to overturn the City's term limit laws, which were passed in a citywide referendum in 1993 and were reaffirmed in 1996.
Koppell told the New York Times that he would introduce a bill "within weeks" that would allow City elected officials, including City Council members, the mayor and borough presidents, to serve three terms instead of two.
In a recent interview with this newspaper, Koppell said that he has never believed in term limits. While he would prefer that the law would be changed by referendum, he had no problem going the legislative route.
"I just don't believe in term limits," said Koppell. "I don't think it makes any sense. If voters want to vote me out than let them vote me out."
Koppell did note that a change to the law did not mean he would definitely run again for a third term. "I haven't made a decision yet," said Koppell. "I'm postponing the decision until I have to make it."
That said, he felt that the voters, not a law, should decide when his City Council career should end.
"I like what I do, and I think I do a good job," said Koppell. "We'll have to see."
Koppell's push to change the law flies in the face of the support expressed for term limits by his own constituents. In 1993 the 81st Assembly District, which includes Riverdale and Kingsbridge, supported the creation of term limits by a vote of 12,985 for and 8,771 against.
In 1996 voters were asked if they would support extending term limits from two terms to three. In the 81st Assembly District 12,807 voters said no to that extension, with 12,184 supporting the change.
A number of local political luminaries, including almost every one of the candidates planning to run for Koppell's seat in 2009, chastised the Councilman for denying the will of the electorate.
"I am, 100 percent opposed to term limits for City Council members. The voters should have the right to choose whichever Council Member they prefer, including the incumbent," said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz. I think the right way to change the current law is through a referendum."
Charles Moerdler, who is considering a run for City Council and serves as chairman of Community Board #8's land use committee, wondered if the City Council might be violating conflict of interest laws by seeking a legislative change to term limits, adding that Koppell was "dead wrong" on the term limits question.
"Public service is not a license to wallow at the public trough," said Moerdler. "Public service means listening to and obeying the will of the electorate. On reflection, Council Member Koppell, a principled and respected public servant, will, I hope, rethink an ill considered act."
Ari Hoffnung, co-president of the Riverdale Jewish Community Council, said that term limits are good for democracy and noted that a recent Quinnipiac poll showed that New Yorkers support term limits by a 72-24 margin.
"In the absence of term limits, voters get stuck with entrenched incumbents who are not motivated to serve the people who elected them. It should come as no surprise that over a dozen states have already implemented some form of term limits," said Hoffnung. "Ironically, the same City Council members who are now calling for the elimination of term limits would not have been elected had their predecessors had not been forced out of office by term limits. Their desire to overturn a law enacted and then reaffirmed by New York City voters is hypocritical, self-serving, and undemocratic."
Anthony Perez Cassino, former chairman of Community Board #8, said that while he had great respect for Koppell's years of service his conduct on this issue was "shameful."
"Is there any wonder whyÊpeople are cynical of politics and politicians?ÊÊNew Yorkers have spoken loud and clear--twice--that we want term limits," said Cassino. "Now we have an attempt by someÊelected officialsÊto circumvent the will of the people by changing term limits without even coming back to the voters forÊa referendum.Ê These are the same politicians who owe their own jobs to term limits.Ê Does it get more hypocritical than that?ÊÊIf theyÊreally feel that the City will be better served to have term limits extended to three terms, than they should make it effective for anyone elected after them."
Helen Morik, vice president for community and governmental affairs at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, said she was not a supporter of term limits but felt it must be decided by another referendum.
"I have not supported term limits and was disappointed both times when it was passed by the voters," said Morik. "I voted against it. However, if it is to be raised again, it is preferable to do it again through a referendum so that the voters can once again voice their preference. Clearly, I think if it is to be put to a vote, it should be done sooner rather than later."
One final candidate, Jamin Sewell, who works as Koppell's legislative director, could not be reached for comment as of press time.