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September 25th, 2008


by Ed Gold

Mike Bloomberg has shown great confidence in his first elected position, but he can’t seem to make up his mind about his future political life, at least not at the time of this writing.

He has toyed over the past few years with running for president or perhaps vice-president, and now he is trying to figure out whether he should get city law changed, without a public vote, so he could seek a third term as mayor.

He has in fact put all the city’s potential candidates in “limbo,” as Councilwoman Melinda Katz of Queens has correctly stated, since she has been making plans to run for City Comptroller over the past two years.

Another Queens Councilmember, John Liu, who is interested in either the Comptrollership or Public Advocate, has expressed growing annoyance with the Bloomberg stance, suggesting that “at some point, people just get tired of the is-he or isn’t- he game.”

Henry Stern, former Parks Commissioner, who has long supported the the two-term limit, suggests that “the mayor may be suffering from victor’s remorse as the day of departure draws near.”

Bloomberg’s problem is that his third-term interest seems self-serving since he would change the law in collusion with the City Council without having a public referendum. Twice, in 1993 and 1996, New Yorkers decided two terms for the city’s elected officials was enough.

Political fireworks have been exploding ever since the word got around that Bloomberg was considering reversing his earlier support for the two-term limit.

A survey by the N.Y, Times indicated that 27 of 51 councilmembers were open to the idea of a third term, also, of course, seen by opponents as a conspicuously self-serving action.

Several activists feel very strongly on the issue. Mark Green, who lost a mayoralty race to Bloomberg, thought the mayor would look like Russia’s Putin if he chose that unseemly path.

Ronald Lauder, an early active supporter of the two-term limit, has begun an ad campaign against any change in the law without a public referendum. His ad message is that politicians, like dirty diapers, need regular changing.

But Ollie Koppell, Councilman from the Bronx, said he would offer a bill in the Council to extend term limits for another four years for the three city elected positions as well as the City Council.

None of the leading mayoralty candidates have been happy with Bloomberg’s anxieties, including Rep. Anthony Weiner of Brooklyn, Comptroller Bill Thompson and Council Speaker Chris Quinn. Quinn, on good terms with the mayor, did not criticize him but urged him to make an early decision.

But former Mayor Ed Koch, who served three terms, predicted that Bloomberg “would swamp the city” if given the opportunity.

New Yorkers should not be too shocked at Bloomberg’s ambivalence. When you have unlimited financial resources, highly regarded competence and a huge ego, it’s tempting to test the political waters.

After all, Bloomberg spent almost two years denying he was seeking the presidency while giving every indication that he was doing just that.

In the summer of 2007, he was asking advisers how much a presidential campaign might cost. He was told $500 million, which would be no sweat for him.

Even earlier, he had met with Al Fromm of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, which had launched Bill Clinton.

Reports followed that Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who opposed the Iraq War, might join Bloomberg on an independent slate.

Then Bloomberg happened to visit Austin, Texas, where he dropped in on Clay Mulford, who had managed Ross Perot’s independent presidential bid.

Bloomberg apparently looked into vice-presidential possibilities, holding meetings with former Sen. Sam Nunn, and the eventual candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama.

Bloomberg had gone from a Democrat to a Republican to an independent, but the Republicans still thought he might challenge Eliot Spitzer–now history– for the governorship in 2010. It’s not clear how Bloomberg would feel about taking on the new governor, David Paterson.

Finally, this past February, Blomberg gave up on his presidential adventure, saying he would endorse a candidate who took an independent, non-partisan position, which means he might sit it out.

The guess here is that, on the mayoral issue, he will go through withdrawal suffering once more. His deputy mayors don’t want him to seek a third term, and it seems pretty clear that the major newspapers would not be sympathetic if he ran without a voter referendum.

He could of course follow the Bill Clinton path and create a super-foundation. Or he could go back to his business empire and make more money.

But he’s got that political itch, and enough money already, so you really can’t tell what he might do to fulfill his ambitions.

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