Changing the Guard New Faces on the City Council

This is a transitional time for the New York City Council. This year, there is a new City Council Speaker in the person of Christine Quinn, a Democrat from District 3 on Manhattan’s Lower West Side who, since becoming speaker, has announced a series of reforms aimed at making the council more democratic.

In addition to Quinn, however, no fewer than eight new councilmen were elected last November: Manhattan’s Daniel Garodnick, D-4; Jessica Lappin, D-5; Rosie Mendez, D-2; Inez Dickens, D-9; and Melissa Mark Vivierto, D-8; Darlene Mealy, D-41, of Brooklyn; James Vacca, D-13, of the Bronx, and from Queens, Thomas White Jr., D-28. All of them are Democrats—the only three Republicans on the 51-member council are Dennis Gallagher, R-30, of Queens, and Andrew Lanza, R-51, and James Oddo, R-50, of Staten Island.

The Impact of Term Limits

Even though eight new council members out of 51 is quite a turnover, it’s nothing compared to the election of November 2001, when 37 new council members were elected.

The reason? The city’s then-new term limits law, which limits council members to two consecutive four-year terms each (It gets complicated every 10 years, when redistricting results in two-year terms and special elections, but we’ll leave that aside.) The issue of term limits was debated throughout the 1990s and finally came to the forefront in recent elections.

Proponents felt it was time to take government away from professional politicians like Queens’ Peter Vallone and Brooklyn’s Herb Berman, who had been in the council for years. Opponents felt that these very same old-timers were a valuable resource because they knew how to get things done and deliver the goods for their constituents. Although every once in awhile one still hears arguments to modify the law, the term-limit advocates won the battle.

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