Term-Limits Decision Taking a Toll on Christine Quinn in Mayor's Race

It has been almost five years since City Council Speaker Christine Quinn helped change a city law so Mayor Michael Bloomberg could run for a third term in office, but many voters are still holding it against her.


1 July 2013
By Andrew Grossman

It has been almost five years since City Council Speaker Christine Quinn helped change a city law so Mayor Michael Bloomberg could run for a third term in office, but many voters are still holding it against her.

Now that Ms. Quinn is in the thick of her own campaign for mayor, the lingering anger over that move has been stoked by her opponents and has already put some Democratic primary voters out of her reach.

In more than two dozen interviews last week with registered Democrats who participated in a Wall Street Journal/NBC 4 New York/Marist College poll that showed Ms. Quinn dropping to second place in the primary field, many volunteered that her handling of the term-limits issue led them to rule her out.

"I'm not voting for Quinn because I voted for term limits and they repealed them," volunteered Robert Shells, a 65-year-old hospital chef who lives in upper Manhattan, when asked why he was considering voting for former Rep. Anthony Weiner and former city Comptroller Bill Thompson but not Ms. Quinn. "It's going to come back to haunt her."

Voters across boroughs and demographic divides said that even if they didn't have strong opinions about term limits themselves, they were upset that elected officials had undone the will of the public. New Yorkers approved a two-term limit in 1993 and rejected a proposal to extend the limit to three terms in 1996.

"The fact that the public had voted for them [twice] and then just go around them because they're not convenient—not so nice," said Laurie Ankersen, a 66-year-old retired special-education teacher from Flushing, Queens, who is leaning toward Mr. Thompson but hasn't made up her mind.

Ms. Quinn had long opposed overturning term limits but changed her mind after the economy went into a deep recession in 2008 and Mr. Bloomberg, whom she counts as a close ally, began making a vigorous case for a third term.

At the time, Ms. Quinn was also facing a scandal: a federal investigation into how the City Council had issued grants to community organizations. She wasn't accused of wrongdoing and has said she has launched changes to prevent misuse of council money.

Giving herself, Mr. Bloomberg and other city politicians another term was seen as helping her put distance between the scandal and her 2013 run for mayor. The council approved the measure by a 29-22 vote in October 2008.

Many voters interviewed didn't have to be reminded of Ms. Quinn's supporting role in Mr. Bloomberg's successful quest for a third term. They brought it up unprompted, even though none of her opponents have launched significant advertising campaigns about the issue. (An independent group has run ads mentioning the issue.)

Ms. Quinn's Democratic rivals have brought up term limits repeatedly on the campaign trail. It is the preferred bludgeon of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who as a council member fought the move. City Comptroller John Liu, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Weiner have all attacked Ms. Quinn on the issue, too.

Part of the problem for Ms. Quinn, said Hunter College emeritus political science Professor Kenneth Sherrill, is that the term-limits issue is relatively straightforward, making it easy for campaigns to use it to sway voters who haven't been paying close attention when they tune in closer to the Sept. 10 primary.

"This is an easy issue for voters who are kind of new to following the campaign," he said. "It's going to have a lingering effect and will continue to have an impact as the primary nears."

The past casts long shadows on other candidates, too. Mr. Weiner continues to answer questions almost every day about the episode that forced his resignation from Congress two years ago, when he sent lewd messages to women and then lied about it. An aide and a fundraiser for Mr. Liu have been convicted on fraud charges related to his campaign finances. (Mr. Liu hasn't been accused of wrongdoing.) And after what many saw as a lackluster campaign against Mr. Bloomberg in 2009, some voters express doubts about whether Mr. Thompson is energetic enough to get elected and run the city.

Ms. Quinn continues to defend her decision. Asked about it last week, she said she made a call that she thought was right.

"I made a decision even though I knew it would have political consequences, potentially," she said. "And that's what you want in a leader. Leaders make the decision that they believe is right, even if it has political consequences."

Indeed, plenty of voters interviewed by the Journal didn't seem to care about the issue. Despite a recent slide, Ms. Quinn has had a strong lead in polls taken this spring.

Rick Marsh, a 64-year-old financial consultant who lives in Queens, said he was leaning toward Mr. de Blasio, mostly because of his liberal views. Still, even though he voted for Mr. Bloomberg in 2009, he sees Ms. Quinn's role in term limits as a negative.

"It was so antidemocratic, it's not even funny," he said.


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