U.S. News

Suit challenges NYC's Bloomberg term limits change

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A new law that allows New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to seek a third term to help the city deal with the global economic crisis is an illegal “end run” around New York voters, a lawsuit filed on Monday says.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg attends a meeting with Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit in Berlin, October 5, 2008. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

Last week, Bloomberg signed a law increasing the term limit for elected officials to three four-year terms from two. The law runs counter to two public referendums, held in 1993 and 1996, that imposed the two-term limit.

Bloomberg, a former Wall Street trader and self-made billionaire who was elected mayor in 2001 and again in 2005, has said his financial experience would be invaluable when the city is bracing for lean times.

But in a civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court in Brooklyn, a group of elected officials and voters said that the term limits law denied voters “meaningful participation in the political process” because it overturns the two referendums by a legislative act, rather than by putting it to a public vote.

“The New York City Council and Mayor Bloomberg have now seized upon the recent economic downturn to rush through with unprecedented speed the dismantling of the old term-limits law ... thereby rendering meaningless the votes cast by city voters,” the lawsuit said.

The law effectively discourages New Yorkers from voting and from participating in future voter referendums because voters can no longer be certain that their votes will count, said Norman Siegel, one of the lawyers, told reporters.

The lawsuit names Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city Board of Elections and the board’s president, James Sampel. It seeks an injunction to stop the law from taking effect.

“We believe the claims lack merit, and are confident that the Court will determine that the amendment to the term limits law was proper and lawful,” city lawyer Michael Cardoza said in a statement.

Bloomberg and Quinn have rejected holding a referendum on the issue on the grounds New Yorkers could express any disagreement with the law at next year’s election by not voting for Bloomberg or other members seeking a third term.

A lawsuit brought in New York State Supreme Court on the eve of the City Council vote failed to stop it. An additional lawsuit brought by New York taxpayers against the council, Bloomberg and individual council members is pending in Manhattan federal court.

Editing by Michelle Nichols and Eric Walsh