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October 27th, 2008


by Ed Gold

Mayor Mike, looking just a bit smug.

We knew the Bloomberg-Quinn tandem would carry the day when a vote was scheduled before the City Council which would permit the mayor to run for a third term. Both the mayor and the speaker are proficient in counting votes.

While all recent polls indicate a 70 percent approval rate for Bloomberg, a Quinnipiac poll showed 89 percent of voters in the city calling for a public referendum on term limits.

This adds up to a conspicuous ambivalence, with large majorities supporting the mayor’s right to seek a third term and at the same time opposing a change in the charter on the third term issue without a public referendum.

The N.Y. Times made the case for Bloomberg. The paper has always opposed term limits and would prefer no term limits at all.

Since a majority of New York voters have indicated they would back a Bloomberg third term, the Times argued they should have the right to make that choice.

Opposition was widespread and emotional. At the heart of the argument was the contention that a law opposed twice by public referendum should not be revoked by City Council action.

Even some of Bloomberg’s former allies were upset. David Garth, who ran the first Bloomberg mayoral campaign in 2001, accused the mayor of “pushing the boundaries of what he can get away with.” He called it “not a good government move.”

This writer agrees with the Times on the issue of term limits, but questions the process employed by Bloomberg and Quinn, particularly in light of Bloomberg’s earlier opposition to tampering with the two-term limit. He had called such tampering “an outrage.”

Actually, he began considering a third term as early as last April, but the Lehman Bros. collapse in September gave him a rationale for staying in City Hall.

His decision brings back memories of Rudy Giuliani, who suggested after 9/11 that the crisis might require him to stay on past his second term.

Bloomberg, of course, has at least as much self-adulation as Giuliani, and much more money. He has indicated he would be prepared to spend at least $60 million in a third term bid, which has prompted critics to charge him with attempting to buy the election. His request to charitable organizations that he has supported to lobby for him in the City Council has caused further irritation.

There are other rich people not supportive of the mayor’s ambitions. But he appears to have neutralized Ronal Lauder, a key advocate of the two-term limit, by agreeing to giving Lauder a seat on a Charter Commission in 2010 that would revisit the term limit issue.

Still, Tom Galisano—the billionaire from Rochester who is backing upstate Democrats running for legislative seats—has indicated opposition to Bloomberg’s third term bid.

At least two of the announced candidates for mayor, Rep. Anthony Weiner of Brooklyn and Comptroller Bill Thompson, have promised to stay in the race.

Several councilmembers who had planned to run for other offices (like Tony Avella, Bill deBlasio, John Liu and Eric Goia) have been particularly vociferous in denouncing the Bloomberg move. Both deBlasio and Avella suggested that colleagues who supported the mayor on the third term issue should be punished by their constituents.

Among the 22 councilmembers who opposed the mayor, a number were outspoken in defending the two-term limit as helpful in opening up the Council to greater minority representation.

The issue also split some political friendships, at least for the moment. Among Lower Manhattan’s councilmembers, Rosie Mendez—usually an ally of Quinn—took strong exception to the Council decision, calling it “undemocratic.” Alan Gerson remained non-committal till late in the game, finally backing the third term decision, making it clear that he had always opposed term limits. He noted he had supported an amendment, which lost, that would have required a public referendum this year.

He was spanked by the Villager newspaper before the council vote and asked “to find his backbone.” At the same time, the paper praised Mendez for her position.

Only one of the better-known candidates for Quinn’s Council seat if she stayed in the mayoralty race, Marie Passannante-Derr, entered the fray. She accused the mayor of an “outright dismissal of process” and said she would remain in the race.The two favorites for what had been expected to be an open Council seat in the third district, Brad Hoylman and Andrew Berman, did not get involved. Hoylman will certainly not run against Quinn, but some say Berman has not yet made up his mind.

The Council decision has brought strong pros and cons from a wide range of political observers.

Henry Stern, the former parks commissioner, always a supporter of the two-term limit, labeled the decision “a disgrace,” while MSNBC’s anchor, Keith Olbermann, listed Bloomberg as “a worse person,” accusing him of a conflict of interest.

On the other hand, both Mario Cuomo and Ed Koch (not known for their close relationship) backed the three-term decision; Cuomo was a three-term governor and Koch a three-term mayor.

There was some evidence that a majority of councilmemmbers voted to support their personal interests. Twenty-three of the 35 councilmembers who supported the mayor were winding up their second terms. Only six of the 16 freshmen backed Bloomberg.

Despite Bloomberg’s big bucks, the next mayoralty race may be more contentious than expected.

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