In its last week of existence, the current city council this morning is debating a proposal by outgoing at-large City Councilor Sam Yoon to limit Boston mayors to two terms. The council will vote on the measure - which would require approval by the mayor and the state legislature - on Wednesday.
Yoon said there were several reasons to limit terms. "It ensures we will have at least once every eight years, new ideas, fresh faces, new people in the office of mayor." He pointed to what he said was an outstanding field of candidates for at-large council seats this year as proof such people exist.
He said term limits would force a mayor to focus on getting his agenda accomplished in eight years. "You just don't have the time, the incentive even, to build a political machine." And, he added, "When you have open elections, it has an effect on the voters. ... It just drives up turnout."
"This has nothing to do with Mayor Menino," he said. "This has to do with the future of the city of Boston," the next 20 or 30 or 40 years, he said.
Nine out of the ten largest cities in America all have term limits. He included New York, where Mike Bloomberg managed to get an exemption so that he could run after reaching his initial term limit. Plus, the president.
Outgoing at-large Councilor Michael Flaherty backed the measure, said it would increase civic engagement and help with "dismal" voter turnout, at a time when many residents are frustrated with the levels of city services.
Flaherty also recapped the issues of his mayoral race, including public safety and poor schools and said these are evidence of why the mayor's office needs fresh faces.
Councillor Bill Linehan (South Boston/South End) opposed the measure: "I think, actually, it precludes choice. ... The last three mayors all did a good job in taking the city to the next level."
Councilor Charles Yancey (Dorchester), the longest serving member of the council, agreed with Linehan, calling the proposal "anti-democratic." He pointed to the School Committee, where he said the elimination of elected members did not lead to better schools. He said elected officials have a "contract" with the people and the people have a choice every two or four years to end that contract. He added "the establishment of term limits tend to concentrate power within the bureaucracy," especially because the bureaucrats don't have term limits. "There's very little control, potentially, on long entrenched bureaucrats."
Councilor ohn Tobin (West Roxbury/Jamaica Plain) agreed with Yoon, but said he didn't go far enough - city councilors should have term limits, too. He said officials could come back after a term and run again.
At-large Councilor John Connolly also backed the proposal, although he'd prefer a term limit of 12 years. Connolly said it would bring more leaders into city government. He said he was not proud to be elected in a year with very lowest turnout. Connolly said he will introduce an amendment to limit city councilors to 12 consecutive years in office.
Councilor Mark Ciommo (Allston/Brighton) opposed the measure, said that with term limits, a mayor might actually spend more time building up a machine, to run for higher office. He said the best polls are elections.
Counciolor Maureen Feeney (Dorchester), opposed the measure as well. Think of Ted Kennedy, she said - imagine if he had had to comply with term limits.