City Council Meetings on Term Limits Are Scary

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"Well, Joe, this is probably the last I'll ever hear of you. Take care."
Photo: NYTimes.com

A dramatic reenactment:

Fourteen-year-old Rachel Trachtenberg was nervous. She'd finished her homeschooling early for the day to attend the City Council committee hearing on term limits, and things were already getting heated up. The event had started at 1 p.m., and it would go on until 11:30 p.m. "Our city had been governed for 200 years before 1993 without the benefit of term limits and without term limits we became one of the greatest cities in world history," Mario Cuomo had said earlier. And then Councilman Charles Barron had shouted at him, saying "You've got a lot of nerve!" And people cheered! If council members were bullying the former governor, how could she be brave enough to get up in front of all these angry people?

But Rachel had written down what she wanted to say in her black marbled Mead notebook from school. She'd put a ribbon in her hair and worn a brightly colored dress that made her happy. Every day on the way to gigs with her family band, she listened to NPR. She wasn't a normal airheaded teenager, she was informed. And she was angry, herself. Her family had to move out of the East Village because the neighborhood had gotten too pricey. Her parents felt disenfranchised, people all over the city were worried about paying the bills, and here was a billionaire mayor who, with the help of his other oligarch friends, was going to buy his way into another term? Without a public vote? The people of this city already feel powerless enough, and they already have suffered enough at the hands of devil-may-care Wall Street types. Rachel knows this is supposed to be the Empire State, but are we really supposed to take it that far? No.

So, despite the angry council members, and despite the signs in the audience and the shouting, and despite the presence of former mayors and governors, when it came time for her to speak, she stood behind the microphone.

“He had to spend $100 million to keep and buy his first two elections, and he will spend another $80 million to buy the next one,” Rachel said, thankful for all of the times her parents had dragged her onstage with the band. She was enough used to crowds that she was less nervous than she had anticipated. To Mayor Bloomberg, who was not present, she finished in a steady voice. “I hope you will choose honesty over bribery and keep term limits as they are.”

The audience went nuts.

Rachel closed her notebook, walked offstage, and sat back down with her mom. She was glad she had contributed something to democracy that day, but it would be a long time before she did it again. She knew she had a lot of growing up to do before she had the wisdom to make these kind of decisions — even though from the looks of it, nobody around her bothered waiting to grow up at all.

Passions High on Term Limits in City Council [NYT]