Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Smith Will Allow Senate Vote on Bill to Require Term Limits Referendum by Sal Gentile - City Hall News

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Speaking at a City Hall On/Off the Record breakfast Nov. 7, incoming State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith threw up a potential roadblock to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s bid for a third term. Asked whether he would allow the State Senate to vote on a bill, sponsored by several Democratic lawmakers, that would require a public referendum before the city’s term limits law could be changed, Smith gave a simple answer: “Yep.”

Threats by Democratic state lawmakers to preempt the mayor’s bill to extend term limits with their own measure were seen as largely symbolic because Senate Republicans, who have benefited from the mayor’s financial largesse, would almost certainly have prevented a vote on the bill.

But now that Democrats have wrested control of the Senate from Republicans, the bill’s sponsors, including Smith’s third-in-command, State Sen. Kevin Parker, may be able to cobble together enough votes to pass it.

Smith declined to say whether he would support the measure himself, though he did say he opposed the concept of term limits.

“I can’t tell you that I wouldn’t vote for it,” Smith said. “I can tell you that I’m not a proponent of term limits. I never have been. I think term limits is that the voters have the opportunity to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to us.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has already said that he would allow a similar bill sponsored by Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries to go through the normal legislative process. Silver has been perceived as leery of passing a one-house bill just to goad Bloomberg, but now that the bill could have life within the Senate, its chances of passage in the Assembly—which come January will have just 41 Republicans out of 150 members—are improved.

Traditionally, leaders of the Senate and Assembly have only allowed votes on bills they know will pass. But it was unclear whether there was enough support in the Senate to pass Parker’s measure, or whether Smith—who has had a somewhat rocky relationship with Bloomberg—would simply allow a symbolic vote as a way to brush back the mayor for his strong support, in both endorsements and campaign support, for Senate Republicans.

The Democrats will likely hold a slim 32-30 majority in the Senate when they take over in January, and it was unclear whether Bloomberg allies and the so-called “gang of four” dissident Democrats would support Parker’s bill, though one of them, Hiram Monserrate, already cast a vote against Bloomberg’s extension in the City Council.

Another, State Sen. Ruben Diaz, might have a personal stake in stopping the extension of term limits, since that would clear the way for his son, Assembly Member Ruben Diaz Jr. to have an open race for Bronx borough president. Yet another, State Sen. Carl Kruger, has toyed with the idea of running for Brooklyn borough president, a race which would be also be open if term limits were to remain in place.

Joseph Addabbo, another incoming Senate Democrat, also voted against the mayor’s bill in the City Council. And fellow freshman Daniel Squadron—whose State Senate bid was endorsed by both Bloomberg and Rep. Anthony Weiner, a harsh critic of the mayor’s bill and likely 2009 opponent—made support for the concept of term limits a key plank in his reformist agenda, and has said that he opposes extending term limits legislatively.

“I don’t think folks should extend term limits for themselves,” Squadron told the Downtown Express on Oct. 31.

An unresolved State Senate race in Queens may further complicate the bill’s prospects. In that race, Democrat James Gennaro, a member of the City Council, trails Republican Frank Padavan by just 723 votes, with an unknown number of paper ballots left to be counted.

Gennaro also voted against the mayor’s bill in the Council. Were he to prevail, the Democrats’ margin in the Senate would increase to 33-29, adding another likely vote for Parker's bill. Supporters would then need to hold the other members of the conference or pull in a few Republican votes.

Should the bill pass both houses, it would go to Gov. David Paterson for approval. While avoiding specific comment on the term limits extension, Paterson has said he thinks Bloomberg has done a good job and could continue doing a good job in a third term.

Whether he would be willing to sign legislation halting the term limits extension and openly confront Bloomberg, whose wealth and popularity would make him an instant favorite were he to run for governor against Paterson in 2010, remains an open question.