At next Tuesday's city council meeting -- the last before he retires from office -- Ald. Brian Benford will finally introduce a long-promised ordinance imposing term limits.
"I don't sense I'll get a lot of support for it," he chuckles. But with the council discussing a proposal by Ald. Austin King to implement public financing of elections, Benford believes the time has come to talk about term limits too. "It's a golden opportunity to take a look at everything."
Under Benford's proposal, the mayor would be limited to 12 years (or three terms) and council members to eight years (or four terms) of continuous service. They would then have to sit out for one term, before being allowed to run again.
In the past, Benford has criticized alders, such as Tim Bruer, for holding on to their seats for decades. (Bruer, who is running unopposed, was first elected in 1984.) He notes that attempts to unseat incumbents are usually not successful. "We forget how much power we have," he says. "It's really, really hard to knock out an incumbent."
Benford is leaving the council this spring after serving only four years himself. He insists that waiting until the last minute to introduce his ordinance is strategic.
"I didn't want it to be identified as Progressive Dane or a special interest issue, because that's the kiss of death," he says. And he's not exactly endeared himself to colleagues. "I've called alders clowns in the past," he admits. "I didn't want [the ordinance] to be seen as a personality battle. I didn't want it to be 'Brian's angry at the alders still.'"
After the ordinance is introduced, it will likely be referred to city committees for review, before it eventually comes back to the full council for a vote. By then, Benford will be gone. But he doesn't plan to let the matter drop.
"If they push it under the rug, I'll certainly be very vocal," he says. "We'll hold them to it."