October 17, 2008
Rep. Velázquez Urges City Council to Bring Term Limits Legislation to a Public Vote
New York – Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) testified this morning at the New York City Council’s Public Hearing on Term Limits Legislation. She urged Council members to refrain from acting without first allowing the public to vote on the issue. The Congresswoman, who in 1984 became the first Hispanic woman to serve on the New York City Council, is also concerned that extending term limits may infringe upon protections for minority voters.
Below is the text of Congresswoman Velázquez’s prepared remarks:
“Madame Speaker and distinguished members of the Council, thank you for inviting me to speak about this important matter.
As we all know, this city has gone through some major changes in the last few months. But that should not translate into carte blanche to alter the fundamental relationship between voters and elected officials. Even in times of crisis – especially in times of crisis – there are some concerns in which the peoples’ voice must be heard. The move to extend this city’s term limits is one of those concerns.
On two different occasions, New Yorkers have been asked to vote on term limits – both times with resounding support. I think it is safe to say that the will of the people is clear. And yet we are now being asked to reevaluate it. If there is genuine reason to believe that voters’ minds have changed, then allow that new opinion to be reflected in a public referendum.
If this Council moves to stretch term limits, it will do more than simply extend a few political careers – it will fundamentally alter New York City’s election system. Moreover, allowing the council to make this decision on its own represents a glaring conflict of interest. Our economy is now grappling with the fallout from moral hazards on Wall Street – let’s not allow those same kinds of conflicts of interest to upend our political system.
The Voting Rights Act was created to protect the integrity of the process. Throwing out term limits and allowing incumbents to continue to seek and hold office would fly in the face of why term limits were established. This would be a major change, one that the Justice Department is legally obligated to review. In fact, it is required to evaluate all “changes in candidacy requirements and qualifications.” This means that any alterations the Council makes to New York election law must be ultimately cleared by the Federal government.
The preclearance mandate was designed to protect the rights of minority voters. In addition to these consequences, there are concerns over the impact of term extensions on this Council. Our increasingly diverse minority population is already underrepresented in government. If term-limits are to be extended, there would be less turnover and, consequently, even fewer opportunities to reflect our changing demographics. That would be unfortunate, because our city works best when it draws from the diversity of our communities. As a former member of this Council, I know that the intention is not to shut out minority voters.
There is no question that the last few months have been an exceptionally trying time for New York City. And yet even in our darkest hour, New Yorkers have not wavered on the subject of term limits. As many of you will recall, Mayor Giuliani moved to extend his tenure following 9/11. But in the face of unspeakable tragedy and uncertainty, the people still said ‘No.’ Once again, New Yorkers are seeking stability and reassurance. We need to remember that there is little comfort in blindly “staying the course” – after all, we saw where that got us in Iraq. It is important that we differentiate between stability and simply soldiering on. It is also important that – before the Council pushes to fundamentally alter New York’s democratic process – it give the City an opportunity to weigh in, and have its voice be heard.
Thank you again for your time. I look forward to a frank discussion, and to working with you in sorting out this thorny issue.”