The New York City Council is poised for the biggest turnover in nearly 20 years, with about two-thirds of the seats limited-term and open to a new cadre of lawmakers. And while the incumbents of the 51-member council will host a class of beginners, they may also see a group somewhere in between: once limited-term lawmakers clamoring for a place on the council.
Five former council members are trying to do just that, taking advantage of a provision in the law that allows them to run after a four-year term hiatus, a move, according to his rivals, that exploits a loophole in the law. They also argue that it violates the spirit of term limits. The policy was indeed designed to restrict the power of incumbents and promote greater competition in elections. These seasoned lawmakers, in turn, argue that the experience is sorely needed to help the city during the post-pandemic recovery phase.
Surprisingly, these lawmakers have supporters: the leaders of some good government watchdog groups who push for electoral law reforms and transparency while exposing political corruption.
The five former Council lawmakers – Gale Brewer, Tony Avella, Charles Barron, Sal Albanese and Darlene Mealy – hope to be elected in the same vein as Queens Council member James Gennaro who returned to his old seat, 16 years after leaving its functions.
“I think institutional knowledge is important because things like negotiating the budget and being aware of what happens when you negotiate the budget on the board is a very important issue,” said Betsy Gotbaum, executive director from Citizens Union, a good government group. “You need people who know what they’re doing and who don’t have to depend entirely on staff. “
Gotbaum specifically cited Brewer, currently Manhattan Borough President, as a prime example of a veteran lawmaker whose experience would benefit Council, despite having already served two terms from 2006 to 2013. The Union of citizens even approved it.
Brewer, a Democrat who represented voters in the council’s 6th district, stunned political observers when she announced her return candidacy. But, in an interview with Gothamist / WNYC, she took issue with the two term limit, given the complexity of the city.
“You need 12 years; I don’t believe in eight, ”she said. “I don’t mind the term limit, but eight years is too little. “
The Citizens’ Union took the same position, supporting the Council’s decision in 2009 to temporarily extend the number of terms from two to three terms, allowing then-mayor Michael Bloomberg to run for a third term. The decision to maintain these permanent limits failed in 2010 by a referendum vote. Citizen Union’s position is slightly stronger than that of Common Cause, which called for a “more nuanced discussion” on term limits. The group declined to comment for this article.
Although the Citizens’ Union has not officially declared whether it supports the return of former lawmakers to the Council, Gotbaum said support should be given on an individual basis.
For Brewer, witnessing the entire city government – with primaries for all ward presidents, comptroller, public attorney and mayor – prompted her to run for office. new, especially as the city enters a post-pandemic period. She argued that her tenure as Borough President, where she helped pass 20 bills, would translate well for Council.
One of her challengers is Sara Lind, former executive director of “21 in ’21”, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping 21 women get elected to the Board this year. Lind told Gothamist / WNYC that the city has “term limits for a reason,” arguing its novelty as a strength and a flower for Brewer, who has been in office for almost 20 years.
At a recent canvassing event, Lind recalled meeting a voter struck by the same old faces representing the Upper West Side.
“She said, ‘faces haven’t changed, and nothing else hasn’t changed,'” Lind recalls. “I thought it was a pretty good kind of summary. I think it’s important to have new perspectives and new ideas.
The Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club seems to think so, approving Lind rather than Brewer in January. In a statement announcing its endorsement, the group called Lind a “relentless progressive” who “represents bold new leadership.” Brewer did not accept the outcome of the approval vote, demanding a recount.
I am very honored to be supported by the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club. I promise to join them in the fight for economic justice, LGBTQ + rights, universal health care, the protection and expansion of reproductive rights, increased funding for PrEP and PEP and other progressive issues. . pic.twitter.com/rXBQGj1kDA
– Sara Lind (@saraklind) January 26, 2021
Despite this, John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, another good government group, supports Brewer’s candidacy. Although the group has not officially endorsed Brewer, Kaehny said the experience should be considered. In an interview with Gothamist, Kaehny said Brewer could make the council “structurally stronger” and help new members navigate the complexities of city government.
“You need inexperienced people who […] have higher expectations, and they want to push harder, and you need more experienced people to help move the process forward and get things done, ”Kaehny said.
Kaehny added that he would be more worried if a quarter of the seats were coveted by former council members.
“But it’s not. It’s just a handful.”
Kaehny also lent his support to Charles Barron, a longtime member of the city’s politics who is now running for his former seat in the 42nd District of Brooklyn Council. The seat is currently occupied by his wife Inez, whose mandate is limited. Eight years ago, the two lawmakers effectively swapped seats, as Inez contested for the council seat after her husband took office in 2013.
The arrangement, which critics call a cynical ploy, pursued Barron throughout the campaign. His decision to race was castigated by Nikki Lucas, a racing challenger, who told City & State magazine that the Barrons “have manipulated the system.”
“No one has seen real deliverables that people are fed up with now,” Lucas told the publication. “So I think they took their course. “
Barron nevertheless remains the main competitor in the race, having obtained the backing of the DC37 and 32BJ SEIU union. He is also the top fundraiser in the race, with $ 307,789 raised and $ 247,755 in cash remaining. In an interview with Gothamist / WNYC, Barron defended his choice to run, arguing that voters in the district were forcing him to do so.
“They wanted me to continue with a loud voice, denouncing the system, against racism, against exploitative capitalism; [I’ve] taken on mayors, speakers and governors, ”Barron said. “And they would love that kind of bold, unbought voice.”
Kaehny said someone like Barron can hold the next mayor to account, given his reputation as “irritating the governor in a good way.”
Barron said that ultimately the law allowed him to run.
“We have the right to race like everyone else,” said Barron.
He stressed that his wife, who had been a member of the Assembly for the same seat he currently occupies, will not be running for her seat.
Elsewhere in Brooklyn, Darlene Mealy seeks to reclaim her old seat from her successor, board member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. The two have had a feud dating back to 2005, when Ampry-Samuel lost his first race to Mealy. On the cusp of a second term, Mealy voted to temporarily extend the terms of office in 2008, allowing Council members at the time to run for a third time. This came after Bloomberg struck a deal with the Council to extend the term so he could run for a third term. After that deal expired in 2017, Mealy was removed from his post for a limited term, paving the way for Ampry-Samuel to win the seat.
Neither Mealy nor Ampry-Samuel returned a request for comment. In April, Ampry-Samuel told NYC Politics, an online publication, that she believed in the democratic process, not “dynasties or monarchies.”
“Term limits are important. I did more in my three years than my predecessor did in twelve years, ”said Ampry-Samuel. “His record in providing resources is just as dismal as mine.”
Similar to Barron, unresolved cases such as updates to zoning laws are also a driving force for Avella’s race for his former 19th Council District seat in Queens. Avella served on the Council from 2001 to 2009 before being elected to the State Senate and joining the controversial Independent Democratic Conference.
“I think since there is a huge turnover in city council, it’s important to have institutional knowledge and experience,” said Avella. “Just because we have experience doesn’t mean we’re not open to new ideas. And we are unable to come up with new ideas.
Despite Avella’s insistence his victory would benefit the Council, Richard Lee, a leading challenger in the race with the backing of unions and current Council members, sees a double standard. He pointed out that Avella voted against the temporary extension of terms in 2008, and criticized another effort in 2017 to extend terms.
“Now he’s made a 180-degree turn and is exploiting a loophole to run for his old seat after failing to deliver for our residents,” Lee said. “New York City voters have passed term limits to weed out career politicians and to ensure we have new ideas and perspectives in government, and it’s disappointing but not surprising to see a career politician go against the spirit of the people to profit from it. “
Although he was previously a board member representing parts of southwest Brooklyn, Sal Albanese is running for a completely different seat, this time in the Staten Island board’s 50th district. Unlike other former Council members vying for a return, Albanese’s tenure away from the body spans 23 years.
“I understand people’s concerns, but this doesn’t apply to me because of my situation,” Albanese said. “I’m running now because I think the city could use people like me on city council.”
Albanese, a registered Democrat, has no main opponent; He will face a Republican challenger in the November general election.
Gotbaum defended Albanese’s tenure on the Council, believing it would succeed in meeting the city’s needs again. She said that with so much turnover, a foundation of skilled lawmakers will be needed to bring the new ones to fruition.
“There are going to be a lot of very new people on the Council, and a lot of them are going to have to spend time learning what it means to legislate,” Gotbaum said.