Gov. Kathy Hochul has become the latest top New York elected official to propose a first-ever two-term limit on statewide offices. Clearly, this stance suits her political positioning as a still-new incumbent seeking election on her own coattails.
Hochul calls for the change knowing that ending the last administration after eight years would have spared both New York and Andrew Cuomo — on whose ticket she ran for lieutenant governor — the ugly denouement that cut short his third term.
"For government to work, those of us in power cannot continue to cling to it," she said Wednesday in her State of the State speech, without explicitly mentioning her predecessor who delivered 11 such addresses. "We need to continually pass the baton to new leaders with different perspectives and fresh ideas."
For Hochul’s immediate optics, the suggestion also has a bipartisan flavor. John Faso, the former Assembly GOP minority leader, called anew last March for the same prescription. "Two four-year terms are quite enough time — eight years — to advance an agenda on behalf of the people," Faso argued.
Odds always run against ideas that have kicked around a long time. Maybe Hochul won't push it too hard. But if term limits prove to have more of a chance than when Cuomo and ex-Gov. George Pataki called for them, the reason may be that Hochul's initiative would only affect the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general.
That is, it would exempt legislators — who'd have to approve the proposal in two consecutive sessions and put it on the ballot for public approval in a referendum.
It doesn't seem coincidental that governors are term-limited in 36 states, with legislators term-limited in only 15.
Still, the constitutional amendment sparks little if any enthusiasm on the Capitol's third floor. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) says as before that he thinks voters should decide whether to keep an official in office, but would discuss it with his conference.
Long Island's Tom DiNapoli, who's expected to seek a fourth term as state comptroller this year, shares this "trust the people" stance of other term-limit foes. DiNapoli said in an upstate TV interview: "The reality is the aggregation of power, the arrogance that comes with that, is more likely to happen with an executive position than with more of an administrative role," which is how he defines his job.
In 1993, New York City residents voted to impose a two-term limit on all municipal offices, in a referendum pushed by conservatives. The system prevailed — except when ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg got the City Council to give him, and themselves, a very controversial third term.
Though it often goes unnoticed, the city's two-term limit seems to make it easier for incumbent mayors to be reelected that one time. During the first terms of Rudy Giuliani, Bloomberg, and Bill de Blasio, several potentially strong candidates waited to run until those mayors' tenures expired. In some cases they also waited for their own term-limited incumbencies, in lower posts, to end — creating a kind of musical-chairs game within the city's dominant Democratic Party.
In Suffolk County, a three-term limit in force for three decades also sways who runs for what and when.
Support or oppose them, term limits determine the size and shape of the electoral playing field wherever they’re in effect.
Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.