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A Buffalo lawmaker contends the term increase for district Council members should take effect with this year's election, rather than the 2003 vote as now scheduled.

Masten Council Member Antoine M. Thompson said he will ask city legal experts to explore the feasibility of a referendum on the issue, possibly in September.

The new City Charter, approved in 1999, provides for extending the terms of district lawmakers to four years from two, but the change would not take effect until the 2003 election. All district Council members face re-election in November.

Some city government sources say they suspect more than coincidence in the surfacing of the issue just as discussions begin about possibly shrinking the the Council to reflect the city's population loss.

At least five Council members said they are inclined to support efforts to reduce the 13-member Council by two to four seats.

Lengthening the terms of lawmakers with this fall's election could delay any elimination of district seats for two additional years.

The issue was raised more than a week ago as city officials grappled with a controversy over efforts to reinstitute a residency requirement to run for mayor and comptroller.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello initially supported that charter revision, but he asked the Council to withdraw the plan after he claimed some lawmakers tried to engage in "horse-trading" for other charter changes.

While Masiello declined to elaborate, sources close to the mayor said one of several other proposed revisions involved Thompson's push to accelerate the four-year terms.

Thompson confirmed discussions on the issue.

"The voters have already told us what they want. The question is, when do the longer terms take effect? People don't want Council members campaigning all the time. They would rather have us get something done," he said.

Thompson said he will ask Corporation Counsel Michael B. Risman to look into options for making the four-year term effective this fall. Risman said his office has yet to receive Thompson's request. He said a number of legal issues would have to be researched before a final determination could be made.

"One thing is clear. Any changes in the terms of elective offices would be subject to a mandatory referendum," Risman said. "But when it comes to questions about the timing of such a referendum and other issues, we would have to do some research."

If the Council plans to authorize a referendum to reinstitute the one-year residency requirement for mayoral and comptroller candidates, including the Council term question would be reasonable, Thompson said.

"There's been a lot of confusion as to whether the charter revision that was passed two years ago would affect our terms this fall," Thompson said. "If we're going to have a referendum, this is a fair issue to put before voters."

Masiello said he rejected Council overtures to "trade" charter changes, claiming such maneuvers would "destroy the integrity" of the charter.

Even some district Council members said they would oppose efforts to speed the effective date for four-year terms.

Niagara Council Member Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr. said he spoke with Thompson last week about his proposal.

"I completely disagree with Antoine on this," he said. "We've known that this would be a two-year term in this election, and I would feel uncomfortable seeing any change."

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. expressed similar views.

"I've always thought the terms of district Council members should remain two years," he said. "I think it's important to be held accountable to the neighborhoods every two years."

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