Sunday, November 16, 2008

State Legislators Plan to Fight on Term Limits by Jeremy W. Peters -

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For all of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s money and might, there is one political antagonist that he has been unable to wear down: the New York State Legislature.

And as Mr. Bloomberg prepares to run for re-election in 2009, some of the same legislators who have thwarted the more ambitious pieces of his agenda are once again threatening to derail his plans and deal him an embarrassing blow.

Senator Kevin S. Parker, a Brooklyn Democrat and outspoken critic of the mayor, plans to file a bill on Friday that would effectively stop Mr. Bloomberg and other city lawmakers from seeking third terms without winning approval from city voters in a referendum. A week ago, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, another Brooklyn Democrat, filed the same legislation in the Assembly.

While bills are routinely circulated in Albany only to disappear into the legislative ether, both of these bills appear to be gaining momentum. The leaders of both chambers have said they would allow the legislation to advance.

Malcolm A. Smith, in line to become Senate majority leader, has said he would “have no problem” letting Mr. Parker’s bill come to the floor for a vote.

Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker, made his first public comments on the legislation Thursday. As Mr. Bloomberg stood at his side at a press conference at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, Mr. Silver said he would allow Mr. Jeffries’s bill to go through the normal legislative process.

Mr. Silver was careful to point out that he had not taken a position on the bill and added that his members would ultimately decide whether it passes. “I’m not opposed to it. I’m not in favor of it,” he said after the press conference. “We haven’t seen the bill yet, and we don’t know which law he would be amending. There are 12,000 bills in the hopper, and they all go to committee.”

Although Mr. Silver appears indifferent about the legislation now, a growing number of his colleagues are not. Mr. Jeffries has received commitments from 16 Assembly members from New York City to sponsor the bill so far. Sixty-five of the 150 Assembly members are from the city, and he plans to begin contacting members from outside the city.

In the Senate, Mr. Parker said he had five cosponsors already and expected to recruit more once other senators have a chance to review it.

To ensure that the bill would undo the City Council’s recent vote to change the term limits law to permit three consecutive four-year terms and enable Mr. Bloomberg to run again, Mr. Jeffries, who wrote the legislation, added a clause that would make it retroactive.

To elected officials inside and outside the city, Mr. Jeffries’s bill — which could prompt a lawsuit from the city if successful — was an unsurprising response from a body that has relished its role as a check against the mayor’s powers.

“For good or for ill, and I think for good, Assembly Democrats are an ornery, prideful group,” said Rory I. Lancman, a Democratic assemblyman from Queens who is a cosponsor of Mr. Jeffries’s bill. “And I take a lot of satisfaction, as I think all the members do, in being a check on powerful interests and powerful people who want to do things to my community.”

He added, “In our profession, that’s where the glory is.”

The term limits legislation currently before both houses of the Legislature is only the latest clash in the long-simmering conflict between the mayor and lawmakers in Albany, a conflict rooted in sharp disagreements over what role the state should play in city affairs.

“We are elected to represent communities throughout the state as coequal branches of government,” Mr. Jeffries said, adding that many of the same voters who elected him and other state legislators also voted to elect the City Council and the mayor. “I think we resent it when executives, be that a mayor or a governor, attempt to dictate to us what they believe is the right thing to do for the communities we are elected to represent.”

A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, Stu Loeser, would not comment on the term limits legislation in Albany, but he pointed out other successful bills that the mayor had supported, including those to build of a waste transfer station near Gansevoort Street on the West Side of Manhattan and pay for a $13 billion capital plan to improve school buildings.

“Absent a couple of high-profile instances, the city, by and large, has gotten all it wanted and more from Albany over the last seven years,” Mr. Loeser said.

Still, what could have been the defining accomplishments of his tenure as mayor have risen with great promise only to die in the State Capitol.

The mayor’s proposal to build a stadium on the West Side was jettisoned after he failed to reach a deal with Mr. Silver, and his plan to charge drivers $8 to enter the most congested parts of Manhattan was defeated after unrelenting opposition from Assembly Democrats from the suburbs and the other boroughs.

Part of the mayor’s disappointing record in Albany on some of his biggest issues, legislators said, has to do with personality conflicts. “On his report card, under ‘works well with others,’ he gets an F,” said Mr. Parker, whom Mr. Bloomberg notably did not support for re-election in a primary race this year.

Others insist that the Legislature too often tries to meddle in city affairs, as evidenced by the term limits bills. “In my neighborhood, the word for that,” said Councilman Lewis A. Fidler of Brooklyn, “is chutzpah.”

Jonathan P. Hicks contributed reporting.