Chris Smith: Term-Limit Poll Results Aren’t the Numbers That Matter

By
Marbury, in his totally unimportant role as a professional basketball player. Photo: Getty Images

There are some startling numbers in today’s Quinnipiac University poll about extending term limits. A landslide 89 percent of the respondents think the issue should be decided by public referendum. And 51 percent now oppose pushing the limit to three terms and giving Mayor Bloomberg the chance to run again. Which is all very nice, but there isn’t going to be any public referendum. Here are the only numbers that matter: thirteen and nine. Thirteen City Council members claim to be undecided. Bloomberg needs nine of them onboard in order to win the vote that’s now scheduled for Thursday at 1:30 p.m. And if the City Council thought they were under pressure during last spring’s debate over congestion pricing, they’re about to learn what serious arm-twisting feels like.

In some ways, this is a beautiful thing: The council very, very rarely gets to decide issues of great substance, and so the city is about to get an unprecedented display of raw legislative politics. And if the lucky nine extract something important for their districts in the process, hey, that’s democracy in action. It’s no more distasteful than Tom Golisano and Ron Lauder throwing their plutocrat weight around in the name of the People.

Certainly, Bloomberg will be dangling goodies in front of the undecideds. For all his verbiage about being above horse-trading, the mayor has always understood how the game is played. When he was gearing up to run for his second term, I asked him why, if he was such a believer in politics being about merit, and about the rightness of his policies, he wouldn’t abide by the campaign-finance rules and level the playing field. Bloomberg scoffed. “What’s the argument to run a risk?” he said in 2001 2005. “The objective is to improve the schools, bring down crime, build affordable housing, clean the streets — not to have a fair fight.” In other words: Elections aren’t about abstract philosophical points. They’re about winning.

It’s difficult to believe that Council Speaker Christine Quinn would call for a vote if she didn’t have the magic 26-vote majority in hand. The opponents of extensions, however, argue that Quinn and the mayor have decided to rush the vote before Golisano can weigh in with ads — and to short-circuit the momentum, as indicated in the Quinnipiac poll, that’s building against the extensions. The head count changes depending on the hour and the agenda of who’s doing the counting, but of the thirteen allegedly undecided, it’s impossible to see Simcha Felder and several others voting against Bloomberg — leaving seven council members who still appear to be truly undecided, and who hold the fate of a Bloomberg third term in their hands. So congratulations to Helen Foster of the Bronx; Gale Brewer and Jessica Lappin of Manhattan; David Yassky of Brooklyn; Melinda Katz and Thomas White of Queens; and Mike McMahon of Staten Island. By holding out, you’ve become Mike Bloomberg’s best friends. For at least the next 43 hours, anyway.