By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL — Voters will once again have the chance to weigh in on term limits this fall, but no matter what they decide, it won't apply to any of the city's sitting politicians, the Charter Revision Commission decided at its final meeting Monday night.
After months of deliberation and nearly two dozen public forums, the commission voted on the final language that will appear on the ballot this November. As expected, voters will be asked to weigh in on whether they want to return to a two-term maximum instead of the current three.
The City Council lifted the term cap to pave the way for Michael Bloomberg's third-term run for mayor in 2009, despite the fact that voters had rejected the idea twice before.
At a meeting earlier this month, the split commission sparred over whether to approve a controversial "grandfathering" caveat that exempts sitting officials from any changes voters might make.
Rumors had been swirling since the event that the commission might try to backtrack on the decision, which was widely panned by members of the public as well as the mayor.
But after a last-ditch attempt at amending the measure Monday night, including two failed votes on potential alternatives, the commission ultimately passed the provision 12-to-0.
Commission chair Matthew Goldstein recognized the difficulty of finding a simple solution.
"We're not going to solve the term limits issue tonight," he said.
But Commissioner Tony Cassino slammed the move, labeling it a "disservice to the public trust."
"I feel that what we wound up with was the worst option for the city," he said.
Commissioner Hope Cohen, who is strongly against term limits, described the debate as a "waste of civic energy" that will make voters more frustrated, not less.
East Harlem resident Gwen Goodwin, 49, told the panel that the clause will only drive voter turnout even lower.
"This is unbelievable," she said during the final hour of public testimony. "We are frustrated. We need a change."
In addition to the term limits measure, voters will also have the chance to weigh in on a second bundle of new rules that includes reducing the number of signatures it takes to get on the ballot and requiring the disclosure of all independent campaign contributions.
While the commission is no longer in session, Goldstein said there are still a number of issues to work out, including how to physically fit the wordy ballot measures onto the new computer-read ballots.
Already, because of limitations, most of the ballot measures had to be bundled together in a single question, giving voters an all-or-none choice.
But Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is among the sitting politiicans now eligible for a third term as a result of the decision, heralded the vote, arguing that it will help to restore a damaged public trust.
"You will have put us on a path to restoring the public's faith in local government," he said.
He also praised the commission for omitting a question on nonpartisan elections, which Bloomberg had once supported vocally.
The 15-member commission was appointed by the mayor to find ways to improve the city's constitution.