The battle over the new bill to extend term limits continued Wednesday when Congressman Anthony Weiner proposed the city delay its submission of the bill to the Department of Justice, at least until the new president’s administration is in office.
Delivered on the steps of City Hall, Weiner was accompanied and supported by Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, City Councilwoman Letitia James, and State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries.
The group was full of criticism for the Justice department under the Bush administration, and questioned its ability to fairly assess the impact of the new bill under the microscope of the Voting Rights Act. The bill was passed by the city council in a 29-22 vote on Oct. 23.
Weiner expressed concern over the new bill, “whether this term limits act was taken lawfully, whether it was indeed in keeping with the Voting Rights Act.” Passing the bill should be a “thoughtful process, not while someone is cleaning his way out off the office,” said Weiner.
Set up in 1965, the Voting Rights Act essentially ensured there would no restrictions for an American citizen to vote. Any change in the law that involves voting needs to be ‘pre-cleared’ with the civil rights division of the Justice department.
With the new bill to extend term limits, Weiner and Velazquez have claimed it would weaken the ability of minority groups to choose their preferred candidate for office.
“There are legitimate voting rights at question that need to be considered. When hundreds of thousands of citizens representing the diversity of New York City decide something, can a legislature of 51 and the executive of one overturn that decision. People should not have their vote taken away,” said Weiner.
Once the bill is submitted to the Justice department, they will decide if the rights of these minority groups are not restricted or denied.
Congresswoman Velazquez echoed Weiner’s concerns, claiming that the Justice department under the Bush administration has been “relentless in its campaign to disenfranchise minorities and democrats.” She further elaborated on instances where the Justice department failed to be fair and nonpartisan, particularly to its ignorance of former Congressman Tom Delay’s ongoing saga.
“People in this country, particularly minorities, are the solution and they have no confidence in this department of justice,” said Velazquez. She hopes that the next administration “will respect the law” and not allow “partisan politics to interfere with the civil rights of the people.”
Assemblyman Jeffries had strong words for both the Bloomberg and Bush Administrations. If the city went ahead to submit the bill to the Justice department prior to January, it would show their interest in “jamming this undemocratic power-grab down our throats,” he said. Mayor Bloomberg is expected to run for re-election if the bill is passed.
In New York City the Act has greater significance because of its large ethnic diversity. Councilwoman James, from the Working Families Party, stressed that the Latino community was the fast growing in the city, and believes the bill “would set up barriers against the growing strength of the Latino and African American” communities, said James.
While the group openly expressed their hope that Senator Barack Obama would be the next president, what about Republican Senator John McCain? “I don’t think it’s possible for anything to be as bad as this Justice department,” said Weiner. “It can’t get worse than this.”
Mayor Bloomberg is expected to sign the bill on Monday, when there will be a hearing for citizens to voice their opinions directly to the mayor. More information can be found on letnycvote.com.