In one of the most closely watched votes in years, the New York City Council voted last week to modify a referendum allowing elected officials in New York City offices to run for only two terms. The entire Bronx delegation, with the exception Councilwoman Annabel Palma, voted to extend term limits. One surprise development was that Councilman Jimmy Vacca, who was expected to vote ‘no,’ switched his vote, siding with three-term advocates at the eleventh hour.
The council voted on Thursday, October 23 to allow all term-limited officials the opportunity to run for third terms in 2009. While Vacca’s vote did not affect the outcome of the council’s decision, which was 29 in favor, 22 opposed, his vote surprised many who had been following the issue.
One of the principal reasons that Vacca gave for his vote was that he had heard from many of his constituents that they wanted the opportunity to vote for Mayor Michael Bloomberg again.
“The bottom line is that I voted this way for several reasons,” Vacca said. “I was always for another referendum on term limits, but city attorneys were telling me that it would be impossible to have another vote by the  elections because of turnover in the Justice Department with the Bush people leaving.”
Vacca said that because federal guidelines established under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 require the feds be involved in another public referendum on term limits, it would be impossible to bring this issue to the people before the next municipal election.
“I am not a believer in terms limits. I believe that the people set the term limits,” Vacca said. “I was a district manager for 26 years, and when I showed up for my first day on the council I knew city government from the ground up because I had the privilege of being appointed DM for many years.”
Vacca was elected to the City Council in 2005, and even under rules that existed before October 23, he could run for another tem in 2009.
A voter referendum on term limits is currently scheduled for 2010, and Vacca does not even know if he would be allowed to run for a third term as councilman should he choose to, in 2013.
Vacca said that he felt that Councilman Michael DeMarco, who served for 27 years in many of the same areas where his district lies, got a lot done, including an appointment to the powerful City Council Finance Committee, which Vacca said brought back many dollars to his district.
Councilwoman Annabel Palma voted to keep term limits the way they were because the overwhelming majority of public opinion polls indicated that the people wanted to decide the issue through a referendum.
“I felt that it was bad government to change term limits without first bringing the question back to the voters,” Palma said. “While I am against the fundamental concept of term limits, the will of the people has been spoken twice. I took a stance and voted ‘no,’ because any change to the term .imits law should be done through referendum; not via legislation.”
“We don’t have term limits in Albany or in Congress,” Vacca stated. “Historically, the neighborhood has been served well by people who have been in government for a long time.”