Council debates mayoral term limits

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.



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In recent years, incumbents

In recent years, incumbents on all political levels have enjoyed about a 90%+ re-election rate. The question is whether this is because they do a great job, or because apathy in the masses has allowed a select few to elect our leaders.

Funny, I can't remember the last time I heard someone remark how great our politicians are and what a great job they do...

Actually, I can't remember

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Actually, I can't remember the last time I heard a story about buildings not burning down.

People with axes to grind dominate the conversion online in all cases. Look at the Presidential election, if the Internet is to judge, Ron Paul should have won by about a billion votes.

And for the record I think our politicians are doing a decent job considering the current situation. So much so that I was put off by Floon's Our City is a Cesspool rhetoric.


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If you don't recognize that Obama had a tremendously huge internet following, then I'm not sure if I can help you with the rest of your incorrect assumptions.

Check the comments section of

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Check the comments section of any political story during the election, 100% guaranteed to be littered with Paultard droppings. They were especially prevalent on the GOP side of things. Obama definitely had more followers but Paul had more loons willing to spend 8 hours a day ranting on the Internet.

Term Limits are lame...

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"This has nothing to do with Mayor Menino," he said.

... OK. Because we would be passing this measure if Menino stepped down after two terms.

I don't care one way or the other, but Yoon is shooting himself in the foot by ignoring the elephant in the room. If the measure passes, Menino's fifth term is his last.

Also funny is his idea that, just because someone is done mayoring in eight years, a mayor wouldn't build a political machine. Unlike the Presidency, where there is no higher office, an ambitious mayor could move on to statewide or national elected posts.

What needs to happen isn't term limits. They cure a symptom. That's easy. The disease is rampant corruption, and the solution is more election reform. I'm not sure what we could do besides having more openness. Flaherty and Yoon have complained about Menino's "machine" (like you can't call just any political campaign a machine), but no action has been taken. If the violations are real, the Election Department is either not hearing them, or they're sitting on their ass.

Maybe we need to separate City Hall from Boston's Elections Department. Independent branch of the government to run municipal elections?

It's always the quick fix with politicians, though, isn't it? Term limits sound great! Just like the President! That way we don't have to examine the actual corruption in the system!

- Foxed

Fairly large number of people testifying

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Most in favor of term limits; one woman did make a point of asking Yoon if he will be serving on the council come January, when he acknowledge no, she basically said, aha, there's your term limit.

Another resident compared the state of Boston elections to Iraq. Another said "open-ended incumbency" is not the same as "democracy."

Several spoke of the frustration faced by young people by the process. Councilor Feeney got into a brief argument with one 30-year-old who acknowledged he's rarely voted in city council elections - he said it's because of the lack of choice, she said he has only himself to blame if he's not going to vote.

Why term-limits?

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The idea comes from Athens to now, but closer to our own relevancy, our Founding Fathers recognized the utility of term limits and even drafted them into the Articles of Confederation. However, they were not kept in the draft of the Constitution (for reasons unknown to me). One reason they were left out was NOT that they had a change of heart. In fact, many saw their removal to be an outrage and a hearkening back to the oligarchy they'd left. For it was basically an unwritten truth to accept the constant churn of new leadership in our federal positions even after the Constitution was accepted without term limits.

But part of that reason for constant turnover of our political leadership was that those in charge saw their duty as one of a citizen citizens (of the people, for the people, by the people). In order to lead, they were putting their ACTUAL lives on hold. They wanted to go back to their lives as soon as possible but provide strong leadership while they were chosen by their fellow citizens to lead. The creation of the "career politician" has basically thrown our original noble ambitions into the grave. Now, we have "leaders" who only look to improve their "profession" of "leading". It has turned "of the people, for the people, by the people" into "of the disinterested, for the money, by the few". Instead of leadership by those who would be foisted into position based on their demonstrated ability to lead, we now have leadership by those who would choose to do the job and gain the most popular support to do it...a very different beast.

We need term limits at all levels...if only to keep the career politicians from settling at any given level, although the best solution would be some sort of "career term limit" where you only get to choose 1-2 offices of any importance to hold before you're not eligible for another election. We need to make our government more like a sort-of long-term jury again, where we all share some of the burden of leadership and everyone else's role as a voter is much more important because the turn-off is high enough to actually force people to make good choices. Lobbyists have less impetus to buy any one person off, because there's no longer any reason to build a long-standing relationship with someone who will be gone in a few years anyways. Political parties would have no vested interest in throwing all of their weight behind any one candidate over another because there'd be no return on investment in the long run.

Kaz is making some excellent

Kaz is making some excellent points. In order to really understand the original concepts of our political process, you need to really understand history as well as political theory.

Yeah, Boss Tweed would

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Yeah, Boss Tweed would approve too I'm sure. Term limits keep the "real" players out of the public eye.

Original process isn't important.

I don't really care about what the original concepts of our political process was- times change. I want an effective government for today's world, not the 1700s.

No elected officials with expertise then?

If we're going to impose limits on elected officials, then the largest amount of experience, and in some ways power, will then accumulate in non-elected bureaucrats and officials. If you're tossing someone out of office after 6-8 years or something, you're simply shifting institutional knowledge/power somewhere else. If the mayor was replaced every few years, then there's a period with a learning curve every few years which is an opportunity for long-term entrenched interests (BRA, unions, pick your bogey) to gain an advantage.

One of the bigger obstacles to better government is simply that the best people to lead typically don't run for office as they have better opportunities in the private sector or are unwilling to deal with the horse trading aspect of politics. Term limits changes none of that. The 'original noble ambition' of the founders was perhaps a more realistic goal in the times where landed white rich men were the sole participants in the government and could afford time away from their business/career, but most people simply don't want to derail their lives for 8 years in city hall.

So ...

you would prefer to have a bunch of patronage buddies and hangers-on camping out in jobs that should require professional expertise?

The civil service system works when nepotism is banned. The hack system where people appoint everybody they have ever known to jobs they know little about? Not so much.


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If we didn't have term limits, Karl Rove would have been the president for the past 8-10 years? Somehow I doubt that. There will always be the non-elected "strategist" who clings on to whomever is in office and willing to be lead by the nose. The problem would be that this strategist would have to continually groom new candidates and repeatedly convince the public that they are the strongest person for the job. That's far more difficult than an *actual* incumbent who holds all of the same power continuing to propel their political machine through hell and high water while in office (see: MENINO VIOLATION OF PUBLIC RECORD LAWS).

The learning curve is what makes the best representation. They may not know the total mechanism of the position, but they are far more attuned to what the rest of us are dealing with than someone who hasn't dealt with being a common citizen for 15-plus years.

The ambitions of our ancestors are not so far removed from our own current ambitions (defense from an enemy abroad, improved economic standing, and a coalition of disparate ideological states). I'd imagine there's about 20% of America currently out of work who would like 8 years away from their current economic status to get the life of a politician...if they only had a way to be elected without making a "career" out of it. Look at Brookline for a good example. They have 240 people in their city who are elected to serve as the city's legislature (Town Meeting Members) 3 years at a time. That's 240 people who sound like they might be willing to lead their city for a while and still maintain their regular lives when the run would be over.

Menino is making about $170,000 a year. Do you think there aren't a few good leaders out in the city who couldn't make do on that kind of money for 8 years before going back to whatever they wanted to do upon reaching their limit.

Eh. I don't think Menino's

Eh. I don't think Menino's 'machine' led to his reelection as much as the fact that none of his challengers could convince a majority of the voters that they represented something better. Viewed the other way, the longer someone is in office, the more opportunity they have to make unpopular decisions and anger the voters. I view things like the way Councilor Feeney can single-handed kill proposals through scheduling moves as more of a problem than term limits, for example.

If you want to argue that there needs to be tons more transparency in government, I agree 100%. To argue that Menino (or whoever) is inherently corrupt due to his long term in office, that's hard to definitively prove, but if there was a lot more openness, then this corruption would be at least exposed, if not entirely reduced.

As to my original point, I wasn't referring to strategists/operatives who are working for the executive branch, but rather the bureaucracy getting even more entrenched because as councilors and mayors cycle through, the same bureaucrats would remain in power. This is pretty much a fact of any government, but I think term limits would further empower them as opposed to elected officials. If a proposal is against the interests of an agency or department, there's more motivation for them to play a delaying game to tie up any changes until the next election cycle rolls in and resets everything.

I don't like 'em

I don't like term limits. Seems undemocratic to me.

Was the 'clown' Ben Dougett?