The City Council's Term Limits

A few months ago, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and five other council members who would have been kicked out of office at the end of the year passed a law to extended their terms until 2005.

Term limits were unfair, they argued, because a quirk in the law forced some members out of office after serving less than eight years. The council passed the revision to the law and overrode Mayor Michael Bloomberg's veto with relative ease.

However, on March 18 a State Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn struck down the council's amendment. Supreme Court Justice Gerard Rosenberg ruled that any change to the city's term limits requires a voter referendum and that the council's law violated "the express will of the electorate." (For a list of when each council member must leave office, see the chart below).

Miller, who is appealing the decision, remains optimistic he will win. "Having reviewed this decision, I remain ever more confident that our law will be upheld at the appellate level," Miller said.

The council has many supporters, including good government groups like Brennan Center, Citizens Union, the New York Public Interest Research Group, and Common Cause. Even Ronald Lauder, the cosmetics mogul who organized and funded the campaign for term limits in New York, supports the speaker and the revised law.

But Randy Mastro, a deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration and the lawyer fighting the council's amendment on behalf of former Councilmember Marty Golden and two other former candidates, is equally confident. Mastro called the council's action "illegal legislation."

Term limits, which restrict city officials to two terms in office, were approved by voters in two referenda. It went into effect in 2002 kicking the mayor, public advocate, comptroller, four of the five borough presidents, and 37 of 51 council members out of office.

Normally City Council terms are four years, but every ten years they are shortened to two, two- year terms when council lines are redrawn with new census data. Under the old term limits law, council members could serve two terms in office, one of which had to be four years. That meant that some council members who were elected in the middle of a term in a special election could serve less than eight years. The City Council's amendment ensures that each council member would be able to serve at least eight years in office if they continue to be reelected.

The six council members who would have to leave office at the end of the year if the court ruling is upheld are Manhattan's Gifford Miller, Philip Reed, Bill Perkins, and Margarita Lopez, Brooklyn's Tracy Boyland and Bronx's Madeline Provenzano. If the ruling is overturned, they can stay in office until 2005.

To make the situation even more complicated, four current members (Christine Quinn, Eva Moskowitz, Michael Nelson, and James Oddo) will be able to serve ten consecutive years if they continue to be elected because of when they came into office.

It is likely that the issue will not be decided until June, depending on how quickly the case moves through the court system. Until then, the future of the council members remains in question.

City Council and Term Limits
key for reading the chart

Borough Dist. Member Party Elected Can't Run
Manhattan 1 Alan J. Gerson DEM 2001 2009
Manhattan 2 Margarita Lopez DEM 1997 ?
Manhattan 3 Christine Quinn DEM 1999 2009
Manhattan 4 Eva S. Moskowitz DEM 1999 2009
Manhattan 5 Gifford Miller DEM 1996 ?
Manhattan 6 Gale A. Brewer DEM 2001 2009
Manhattan 7 Robert Jackson DEM 2001 2009
Manhattan 8 Philip Reed DEM 1997 ?
Manhattan 9 Bill Perkins DEM 1997 ?
Manhattan 10 Miguel Martinez DEM 2001 2009
Bronx 11 G. Oliver Koppell DEM 2001 2009
Bronx 12 Larry B. Seabrook DEM 2001 2009
Bronx 13 Madeline Provenzano DEM 1997 ?
Bronx 14 Maria Baez DEM 2001 2009
Bronx 15 Joel Rivera DEM 2001 2009
Bronx 16 Helen D. Foster DEM 2001 2009
Bronx 17 Jose M. Serrano DEM 2001 2009
Bronx 18 Pedro Espada DEM 2003 *
Queens 19 Tony Avella DEM 2001 2009
Queens 20 John C. Liu DEM 2001 2009
Queens 21 Hiram Monserrate DEM 2001 2009
Queens 22 Peter F. Vallone Jr. DEM 2001 2009
Queens 23 David I. Weprin DEM 2001 2009
Queens 24 James F. Gennaro DEM 2001 2009
Queens 25 Helen Sears DEM 2001 2009
Queens 26 Eric N. Gioia DEM 2001 2009
Queens 27 Leroy G. Comrie DEM 2001 2009
Queens 28 Allan W. Jennings DEM 2001 2009
Queens 29 Melinda R. Katz DEM 2001 2009
Queens 30 Dennis P. Gallagher REP 2001 2009
Queens 31 James Sanders DEM 2001 2009
Queens 32 Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. DEM 2001 2009
Brooklyn 33 David Yassky DEM 2001 2009
Brooklyn 34 Diana Reyna DEM 2001 2009
Brooklyn 35 James E. Davis DEM 2001 2009
Brooklyn 36 Albert Vann DEM 2001 2009
Brooklyn 37 Erik Martin Dilan DEM 2001 2009
Brooklyn 38 Sarah Gonzalez DEM 2002 *
Brooklyn 39 Bill DeBlasio DEM 2001 2009
Brooklyn 40 Yvette D. Clarke DEM 2001 2009
Brooklyn 41 Tracy Boyland DEM 1997 ?
Brooklyn 42 Charles Barron DEM 2001 2009
Brooklyn 43 Vincent Gentile DEM 2003 *
Brooklyn 44 Simcha Felder DEM 2001 2009
Brooklyn 45 Kendall B. Stewart DEM 2001 2009
Brooklyn 46 Lewis A. Fidler DEM 2001 2009
Brooklyn 47 Domenic M. Recchia DEM 2001 2009
Brooklyn 48 Michael Nelson DEM 1999 2009
Staten Island 49 Michael E. McMahon DEM 2001 2009
Staten Island 50 James S. Oddo REP 1999 2009
Staten Island 51 Andrew J. Lanza REP 2001 2009

Key for reading the chart

Term limits only apply to consecutive terms. The "Can't Run" heading assumes the council member remains in office and continues to be reelected.

The terms of the six council members with "?" in the "Can't Run" column will be decided by the court by June. If the council's amendment is upheld, they can stay in office until 2005. If it is struck down, the council members must leave office in 2003.

The terms of three council members with a "*" in the "Can't Run" column will also be affected by the court ruling. If the council's amendment is upheld, they can stay in office until 2013. If it is struck down, the council members must leave office in 2009.

Four council members - Christine Quinn, Eva Moskowitz, Michael Nelson, and James Oddo - will be able to serve more than eight years in office no matter what the court decides.

Click here for the full text of the council's amendment to term limits law.