By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
NEW YORK, Sept. 30 -- Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) appeared poised this week to announce a bid to seek a third term in office, citing the country's financial crisis and its disproportionate toll on New York's fiscal health as a reason to overturn a city term-limit law that would force him from office at the end of next year.
Bloomberg has supported term limits, but his recent statements have been less emphatic than in the past. Although he remains enormously popular in the city, with sky-high approval ratings, opinion polls indicate that a majority of New Yorkers consistently favor keeping the two-term limit for the city's top elected officials.
The turnaround for Bloomberg came Tuesday when the most prominent and best-funded proponent of the term-limit law, Ronald Lauder, the billionaire heir to the cosmetics fortune, said he had changed his view. In an interview with the New York Post, Lauder said that the "unprecedented times" of the financial crisis make Bloomberg's experience "invaluable" and that the mayor should stay an additional four years.
Lauder's support is considered crucial to overturning the law, because he almost single-handedly funded the campaign for term limits in two citywide referenda in the 1990s. Just a few months ago, before the meltdown on Wall Street, Lauder's spokesman said the billionaire mogul remained committed to term limits.
Although voters approved the term limits, the City Council -- which is normally pliant to the mayor -- could overturn the referendum with a majority vote. A majority of council members, who would also have to give up their jobs next year, have indicated they would support a move to overturn term limits if the mayor publicly announced his intention to run again.
An attempt to stay in office to deal with an unexpected fiscal crisis would recall Rudolph W. Giuliani's failed attempt to extend his term just after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Like Bloomberg's supporters, Giuliani argued that dealing with a huge crisis required continuity and experience. The Sept. 11 attacks occurred on the day New Yorkers were voting in a primary election for Giuliani's successor.
Bloomberg would face major challenges to getting a third term.
Civic groups remain opposed to overturning term limits, particularly if such a decision is made by the council and not the voters.
"It's just plain wrong to overturn the will of the voters by legislation," said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group. "We're supposed to be a government of laws, not of men. It's supposed to be what's good for New York, not what's good for Michael Bloomberg."
Russianoff said various civic groups would probably band together and review their options for opposing Bloomberg's move, including setting up a Web site to allow New Yorkers to voice their views.
Several contenders for Bloomberg's job indicated Tuesday that they would stay in the race.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who represents part of Brooklyn and Queens, said through a spokesman that he is running "to offer a vision of how to fight for the middle class and those struggling to make it."
Another mayoral candidate, William C. Thompson Jr., the city comptroller, said in an e-mailed statement: "I am opposed to any extension of term limits by legislative fiat. The voters have spoken twice, and an attempt to disregard their voice sends a message that democracy has taken a back seat."
The fast-moving developments seemed highly choreographed, coming, oddly, over the Jewish New Year holiday, when many officials and others were away from their offices and the mayor's press office was short-staffed. Some reports said an official announcement would come Thursday.
The New York Post broke the news with an exclusive Lauder interview in Tuesday's editions that carried a picture of Bloomberg wearing a crown and the headline "Mike the III."
Only three recent New York mayors have had three terms: Fiorello La Guardia, Robert F. Wagner Jr. and most recently Edward I. Koch -- and the third terms have generally been considered less successful than the first two. Third-term administrations often run out of ideas and energy, and exhausted staff members frequently leave.
"The history of third terms has not been very bright," said Douglas Muzzio, a professor of political science at the City University of New York's Baruch College.