Monday, October 27, 2008

Ronald Lauder, Term-Limit Hamlet

1st\NW Quadrant: The Approval Matrix

From Times Newsweekly

"To be, or not to be?"—that was the question that provided Hamlet's dilemma. For Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the matter to ponder—to run or not to run—may not be one of life or death, but it certainly has as much drama.

Term limits—an idea that became a reality—precludes the mayor, members of the City Council and other elected officials from running for more than two terms.

The concept of term limits in New York City was spearheaded by Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estée Lauder cosmetics empire and failed Republican/Conservative candidate for mayor.

Lauder, who had left the family business in 1983 and went on to serve as ambassador to Austria, ran a fierce campaign against David Dinkins in 1989 that reportedly cost $14 million out of his own pocket.

After losing the battle, he left town and pursued other endeavors. However, in 1993, Lauder again entered the political arena. This time not as a candidate, but as a crusader. His zeal was fueled by a frustration with elected officials.

"As a New Yorker, I feel the gridlock strangling the city, and I can think of nothing that could revolutionize the city like term limits," Lauder declared at the time.

"There would be sweeping changes." Backing his words with money, Lauder hired a staff of six and collected the necessary signatures.

He spent about $800,000—most of it to finance the legal fight after the city's lawyers challenged the measure in court—and won the right to bring term limits to a referendum vote.

Given the chance to decide in 1993, New Yorkers voted for term limits. But, politicians being what they are—and many expect to hold onto an elected office for life—brought the issue to the people again in 1996.

The fervent hope was that they could sell the public on the idea that it takes time to grow as an elected official and there is no substitute for experience.

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