In a recent speech at North Shore Towers, state Sen. Tony Avella spoke about a bill he has sponsored that would limit state legislators in the state Assembly and Senate to eight terms, or 16 years. This restriction, he argued, would make lawmakers more accountable to the people who sent them to Albany.
Avella is not alone. Other members of the Legislature have introduced similar bills. The way it stands now, the legislators can run for re-election as many times as they want.
“This is a big reason why there’s so much dysfunction in Albany” Avella said.
There is no better example of how problematic this can become than Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was first elected in 1976. He has long been one of the most powerful people in Albany. At the same time, he continues to work for the law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg. The firm refuses to disclose how much Silver is paid, but his critics note he has single-handedly blocked tort reform in Albany.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also become a poster child for term limits. Now in his third term, he has become indifferent to the people who first elected him in the wake of 9/11. He is spending millions of dollars out of his own pocket to rescue his plummeting popularity.
Even Ed Koch, one of the best mayors the city has ever known, saw his popularity decline in his third term.
But there is another side to this debate. Frank Padavan, the man Avella defeated last fall, was first elected to the Senate in 1972 and remained there for 37 years. To this day, he is popular in the district he fought for.
On the other side of the aisle is Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn, who retired April 1 after 28 years of service to the people living in her district. Although she looked like a harmless grandmother, Mayersohn was one of the most courageous fighters Albany has ever seen.
But Padavan and Mayersohn are the exceptions to the rule. Allowing people to become legislators for life invites complacency and corruption. Term limits as proposed by Avella and others would allow fresh blood to enter state government with fresh ideas and less political baggage. People might even begin to show up again on Election Day.