After Term-Limit Win, NYC Mayor Faces New Fight
October 24, 2008 - 3:16 PMMayor Michael Bloomberg faces a new fight now that he has won a major victory by convincing the City Council to back his plan to extend term-limits, clearing the way for him to run for another term.
As he gears up for a re-election campaign in 2009, the billionaire independent must try to win over his detractors - the people he upset by the way he went about getting what he wanted.
Critics said he ignored the will of the people by going through the City Council instead of the voters to change the law by giving officeholders a third, consecutive four-year term. They also say Bloomberg disappointed New Yorkers by reversing his long-held view that voters had already spoken twice on term limits.
The former CEO said he wanted another four years in large part because he believed his financial expertise would be crucial in steering the city through the long-term effects of the economic crisis.
Shortly after the vote on Thursday, angry protesters chased the mayor to his SUV outside City Hall, shouting in his face that he was a "sellout."
"You're disgusting!" they yelled, as Bloomberg's security detail surrounded him.
The red-faced Bloomberg did not address the group. For a popular mayor whose approval ratings have hovered in the low 70s for years, a crowd of protesters is not a familiar encounter.
From the beginning, Bloomberg's proposal sparked a contentious debate after he announced his plans to seek re-election just three weeks ago. Scores of New Yorkers came to testify during 20 hours of council hearings, and a public opinion poll found that registered voters overwhelmingly disapproved of the plan.
While Bloomberg begins trying to win back the public ahead of next year's mayoral campaign, his term-limit proposal is certain to face legal fights. A group of teachers has already sued the mayor and City Council in federal court in Manhattan, contending that it was unconstitutional to change term limits without letting voters decide the issue.
The council vote of 29-22 was among the 51-member body's closest votes in recent history.
During the meeting on Thursday, councilmembers who opposed the bill accused the mayor of "arrogance" and said he manipulated the process.
Councilman John Liu said the whole thing was "preconceived, pre-orchestrated and preordained."
"It's no wonder that people no longer trust politics or politicians," said Councilman Eric Gioia.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn supported the measure but acknowledged the "difficult" decision each council member had to make. Ultimately, she agreed with Bloomberg's rationale that the city needs continuity in government to get through the financial turmoil.
"Our city, already in recession, is headed for a long and deep downturn," she said. "In challenging times like these, the voters should have the choice, the choice to continue their current leadership."
Several council members who opposed the Bloomberg plan made a last-minute push Thursday for a voter referendum on term limits, but their measure was defeated.
Bloomberg has promised to appoint a commission to reconsider the issue and put it before the voters in 2010. He did not do it now, he says, so that voters would not have to consider both a mayor's race and a referendum at the same time next year.
The City Council's change to the term-limits law must still be signed by the mayor. It then must be reviewed by the Department of Justice, under terms of the Voting Rights Act, which aims to prevent discrimination in election rules or practices. The DOJ has up to 60 days to make a determination once it receives the details of the change.
After the vote, Bloomberg issued a statement praising the council for acting to "give the people of New York a fuller choice" next year. He said the city must turn its focus to softening the fallout from the financial downturn.
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